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Are power naps a real thing?

Written By: Simone Sonnier, UT Physicians | Updated: March 8, 2023
Young woman taking a nap

The key to taking a power nap is timing according to sleep medicine experts.

Power naps are rumored to be restorative and help improve cognitive function and mood, but are they actually a real thing? The short answer is yes!

Ruckshanda Majid, MD, sleep medicine specialist with UT Physicians, shares the hacks to having the best power nap and who should avoid them at all costs.

Timing is everything

Not only is the duration of your nap important, but also the time of day you choose to snooze.

“The ideal length of a nap is 20 to 45 minutes. This allows a person to get some good restorative sleep while avoiding entering the deeper cycles,” explained Majid, associate professor in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston.

“As for the most opportune time, naps are best taken between 1 to 3 p.m. Between these times, the natural circadian rhythm is at its lowest point during the day and sleep will come more naturally,” Majid added.

To put it simply, keep it short and not too late.

After a good nap, individuals may experience improved alertness, mood, and overall performance, as well as a boost to the immune system.

According to Majid, the downsides of napping for too long are grogginess and sleep inertia (temporary disorientation after waking up from a deep sleep). Napping too late can also interfere with your normal sleep patterns at night.

Additionally, the need for frequent, long naps could be the result of a medication you are taking or an indication of an underlying sleep disorder or chronic health condition.

Insomniacs beware

Those struggling with insomnia should avoid napping. The feeling of progressive drowsiness we experience as a day goes on is referred to as “Process S.”

“Adenosine, a chemical present in our body and brain, accumulates throughout the day and causes drowsiness. When we sleep, our adenosine levels wash out, and, as a result, we are more alert,” Majid said. “The problem with insomniacs is that by napping they rob themselves of enough adenosine to help push themselves easily into sleep at night.”

If you are having trouble sleeping (too much or too little) or staying asleep, Majid recommends seeking out expert care.

“Depending on the person, napping can be a wonderful way to get that mid-day boost we all crave. However, when sleeping isn’t ideal, it can throw off many aspects of your life. Discuss any problems you may have with your primary care physician or reach out to a sleep medicine expert,” she said.

To schedule an appointment with a UT Physicians doctor, call 888-488-3627 or book online.

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As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.