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Sleep science

Learn more about your sleep and how to make it better.

How Long You Should Nap to Get Optimal Results

For some time, naps have been a not-so-secret weapon of scientific geniuses, world leaders, and just about anyone who wants to perform better. Sound like you? If so, how you want to perform better will dictate how long you should nap for. Here's a breakdown of brain benefits you'll get from 20, 60, and 90 minute naps -- and why you’ll probably want to avoid 45 minute naps.

Before we get into the benefits of each nap length, though, it’s good to know why nap length matters in the first place. The reason is that you sleep in phases and it takes time -- about 90 minutes -- to go through all of them. When you nap, you may complete only a partial cycle, which has a different set of benefits from a complete cycle. The whole cycle consists of three phases of non-rapid eye movement (NREM-1, 2, and 3) sleep and one phase of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

Now,

20 minute "power naps" help your alertness and energy

During the first 20 minutes of a nap you will cycle through only the early stages of NREM, which will help you wake up feeling more alert, happy, and ready to concentrate. You may also notice that your motor skills are better, even if you're just shooting trash can three-pointers at the office, and you can recall facts and verbal knowledge more easily.

45 minute naps: you can do better!

There's a saying that sex is like pizza because even when it's bad, it's still pretty good. We'd say the same thing about NREM-3 sleep because if yo wake up from it, you will get the benefits of sleep eventually but first you will probably feel groggy thanks to sleep inertia.

When napping, you go through NREM-3 after the first two phases of NREM at about the 45 minute mark. Therefore, rather than wake up after 45 minutes and wait 15 minutes (or more) for your brain to "switch on," we'd suggest sleeping for that extra 15 minutes and hitting the ground running when you wake up.

60 minute "REM naps" for improved memory

By the time you’ve napped for 60 minutes, you will have entered REM. In addition to being easier to wake up from than NREM-3, REM sleep allows your brain to be "smarter" when it comes to creativity, associating information, processing sensory perceptions, and storing emotionally-oriented memories like faces or names.

90 minute "ultimate naps" to lock in your sleep gains

Napping for 90 minutes allows you to complete (or almost-complete, anyway) an REM phase and enjoy the full benefits of a 4-phase sleep cycle, including better conscious memory recall and body tissue repair. Now, 90 minutes may seem like a lot -- it's about 20% of the standard 8-hour workday, for example -- but it may be the edge you need to be at the top of your game. Just ask a professional athlete.

We recommend thinking of naps as investments with returns coming in the form of performance. That seems to be the thinking at a growing number of major companies like Uber, Google, and even ultra-traditional PriceWaterhouseCoopers, at all of whose offices you’ll find nap pods!

Depending on your circumstances and goals, it may make sense to invest more time in naps, and sometimes less. That's why the Neuroon app includes the Personal Pause feature to help guide 20, 60, and 90 minute nap sessions and make napping on a schedule -- especially a tight workday schedule -- effective and practical. Napping may not be widely accepted (in North America, anyway) today, but we have a feeling it will be, especially as the knowledge economy and the popularity of flex work continue to grow.

So, 20 minutes for an energy boost, 60 minutes for a mental boost, and 90 minutes for “the works.” Not a bad deal!

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