Napping is a common practice in many cultures around the world. The siesta, a short nap taken in the early afternoon, is especially popular in warmer climates like Spain and Italy. But naps aren’t just for lazy summer afternoons. More and more research is showing that short naps during the day can have positive effects on our health and wellbeing.
In particular, naps that last around 1 hour seem to offer the most benefits. But are 1 hour naps really better than shorter or longer naps? Let’s take a look at the research and potential pros and cons of 1 hour nap times.
Benefits of 1 Hour Naps
Here are some of the main health benefits associated specifically with 1 hour naps:
Improves Learning and Memory
Multiple studies have found that a 60 minute nap can boost learning capacity and memory. In one study, participants memorized made up words in the morning. Then half the group took a 1 hour nap while the other half stayed awake. When retested in the afternoon, the nap group performed better at recalling the fake words.
Researchers believe a 1 hour nap may help with memory consolidation, allowing the brain to solidify new information and transfer short term memories to long term storage.
We all experience dips in alertness and performance as part of our circadian rhythms. A 1 hour nap seems to be just the right length to provide an energy boost without leading to grogginess or sleep inertia after waking up.
In a 2011 study, air traffic controllers either took a 40 minute nap or stayed awake during an afternoon break. The nap group performed much better at tasks that required attention and vigilance.
Napping helps relieve stress in two ways. First, sleep decreases the production of cortisol, a hormone linked to stress. Second, napping offers a mental break and moment of relaxation during the hectic workday.
In one study, taking a 60 minute nap reduced participants’ blood pressure after a stressful task. Other research found that napping could lower levels of catecholamines, hormones and neurotransmitters tied to our fight-or-flight stress response.
May Support Heart Health
Heart health appears to benefit from midday napping. In a 6 year study of over 23,000 Greek adults, occasional nappers had a 48% lower risk of heart disease compared to people who never napped. Most participants took naps between 30-60 minutes.
Researchers believe napping may lower blood pressure and decrease stress, both of which protect heart health. But more studies are still needed to confirm the connection between napping and heart disease risk.
Missing sleep at night can make us cranky, while getting rest improves mood and satisfaction. Not surprisingly, research indicates that napping can also boost mood.
One study found that a 1 hour nap lead to fewer feelings of sleepiness and improved mood compared to either a 30 minute nap or no nap. The longer nap provided greater benefits.
Potential Drawbacks of 1 Hour Naps
While 1 hour naps offer advantages, there are some potential downsides:
Interferes with Nighttime Sleep
Naps may make it harder to fall asleep at night. Our bodies produce the sleep hormone melatonin between 1pm and 3pm, which induces drowsiness. If you take a late nap, it could disrupt your body’s preparation for nighttime sleep.
To avoid interference, nap before 3pm or make sure to leave at least 4-5 hours between napping and bedtime.
Can Cause Sleep Inertia
Longer naps may lead to sleep inertia – that groggy, disoriented feeling right after waking up. Sleep inertia happens when you disrupt a deep stage of sleep.
To minimize sleep inertia, don’t nap for more than an hour. Allowing yourself to wake up slowly after a nap can also help reduce any grogginess.
Reduces Sleep Drive at Night
Our sleep drive accumulates the longer we are awake, making us tired by bedtime. Afternoon naps, especially longer ones, can reduce this sleep drive. You might not feel that pressing need for sleep at night.
To keep your sleep drive up, limit nap length to an hour or less. Avoid napping after 3pm so you don’t tamp down sleep drive too close to bedtime.
Not Ideal for People with Sleep Disorders
For people with certain sleep disorders like insomnia or sleep apnea, napping can make symptoms worse. If you have difficulty sleeping at night or feel excessively tired during the day, check with your doctor before napping.
Who Benefits Most from 1 Hour Naps?
Research indicates 1 hour naps have the greatest benefits for:
– Shift workers and night owls – Naps can help improve alertness for those with irregular sleep schedules or who stay up very late.
– Afternoon dippers – Most people experience a mid-afternoon energy lull. A short nap prevents fatigue during this natural circadian low point.
– Older adults – Naps help counteract age-related decreases in deep NREM sleep stages at night.
– Students – Napping supports learning and memory consolidation for studying students.
– Athletes – Naps boost physical performance by reducing fatigue. One study found basketball players ran faster sprints after a 60 minute nap.
– Anyone sleep-deprived – If you missed sleep for any reason, a 1 hour nap can help restore mental clarity and performance.
Tips for Productive 1 Hour Naps
Here are some tips to make the most of a 1 hour nap:
– Time it right – Nap between 1-3pm to avoid sleep inertia upon waking.
– Find a dark, cool place – This mimics nighttime conditions, enabling deeper sleep. Use an eye mask or blackout curtains if needed.
– Use a loud alarm – This ensures you don’t fall into a longer sleep cycle and have trouble waking up.
– Have caffeinated coffee beforehand – A coffee 20-30 minutes before napping provides an extra boost upon waking.
– Do a pre-nap stretch – Light yoga poses release muscle tension optimal for resting.
– Finish eating 90 minutes before – Allow time to digest before lying down to prevent indigestion.
– Use earplugs or white noise – This blocks disruptive sounds that could disturb nap-time relaxation.
How to Take a 1 Hour Nap
Follow these steps to take an effective 1 hour nap:
1. Choose the optimal nap time between 1-3pm when sleep drive is high.
2. Find a comfortable, convenient place to nap like a sofa, hammock or bed. Make sure it’s dark and quiet.
3. Set an alarm to wake you up in 1 hour. Place it far enough away that you have to get up to turn it off.
4. Lie down in a restful position. Side sleeping or propped up on pillows often makes breathing easiest for napping.
5. Close your eyes and focus on relaxing your whole body from head to toe. Use meditation or calming music if it helps you drift off.
6. Don’t fight sleep – let yourself drift off gently. But don’t stress if you can’t fall fully asleep. Any rest is beneficial.
7. Wake slowly when your alarm goes off. Take a few deep stretches. Have a cup of coffee or splash water on your face if you feel groggy.
8. Resist the temptation to just “sleep a few more minutes.” This could lead to oversleeping and throw off your nighttime slumber.
Nap Length Comparison
Based on a review of the current research, 1 hour naps offer a variety of science-backed health benefits. The ideal nap length to balance restorative rest with minimal downsides appears to be 60 minutes.
One hour naps may enhance learning, improve mood, increase alertness and reduce stress. But proper timing is key – make sure to nap before 3pm and not too close to bedtime. Overall, occasional planned 1 hour naps can be a healthy way to boost energy and functioning during the day.