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Why do 20 minute naps feel so good?

Taking a nap, especially a short 20 minute nap, can make you feel refreshed and recharged. There are several reasons why 20 minute power naps are beneficial for your mind and body:

Quick Rest for the Brain

The brain is like a muscle that needs periods of rest and recovery. During waking hours, your brain accumulates adenosine, a byproduct of mental activity that causes drowsiness. Taking a 20 minute nap clears adenosine from your system and gives your brain a quick rest period to recharge.[1]

After just 20 minutes, you’ll wake up with improved alertness, better memory recall, enhanced creativity, and a boost in cognitive function.[2] Napping breaks up your day and gives your brain the rest it craves to continue performing at a high level.

Increased Learning Ability

Napping for 20-30 minutes can also drastically improve your ability to learn and retain information. During sleep, your brain consolidates memories and new information. Even a short mid-day nap can strengthen neural connections and integrate new facts and skills you’ve learned.[3]

Studies show that napping after learning leads to better recall and information retention, compared to staying awake after learning something new. A nap clears out distractions and cements memories so you can perform better at tests, presentations, or new tasks after you wake up.[4]

Improved Mood

Lack of quality sleep often leads to increased stress, anxiety, and emotional reactivity. Napping for just 20 minutes can relax your mind and body, leaving you feeling happier and less stressed after you wake up.

During sleep, your brain produces serotonin, a neurotransmitter that boosts mood and feelings of wellbeing. Napping increases serotonin levels, which is why you might feel happier and more positive after a short rest.[5] The relaxation that comes from napping can also lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body.[6]

Increased Alertness

Drowsiness and sleep deprivation severely impact your alertness and performance. Just 20 minutes of sleep can counteract this effect by producing a surge of adrenaline and dopamine in your body. These neurotransmitters increase energy levels and boost motivation.[7]

With heightened alertness and focus, you’ll be more productive in the hours following your nap. Tasks will seem easier and you’ll experience improved concentration and reaction time. The short burst of sleep hormones like adrenaline provides lasting energy to carry you through the rest of your day after waking up from a power nap.

Reduced Fatigue

If you’re feeling tired or fatigued during the day, a short 20 minute nap can help turn things around by recharging your mental and physical energy levels. Napping decreases the accumulation of lactic acid that contributes to fatigue by relaxing your muscles.[8]

Additionally, the light rest during a nap gives your body vital down time to recover. This is especially useful after strenuous physical activity or long periods of concentration and wakefulness. Waking up from a 20 minute nap leaves you feeling refreshed and revitalized, ready to take on the rest of the day.

Increased Productivity

The combination of improved mood, reduced fatigue, and heightened focus makes 20 minute power naps an easy way to increase your productivity.

In multiple studies, subjects performed tasks faster and had improved motor skills after taking short naps during the day.[9] Performance increases after napping because your body has had time to rest while your brain consolidates memories needed to excel at skilled tasks and activities.

The benefits of napping apply to tasks like driving, athletics, playing an instrument, and completing work projects. Taking short naps as part of your daily routine can give you an edge.

The Science Behind 20 Minute Nap Benefits

Now that you know the many perks of 20 minute naps, let’s look at what’s happening in your brain and body during this ideal nap length:

The Five Stages of Sleep

During a full sleep cycle, your brain and body go through five distinct sleep stages:

  • Stage 1 – Light sleep
  • Stage 2 – true sleep begins
  • Stages 3 and 4 – Deep sleep
  • Stage 5 – REM sleep

It takes about 90 minutes to cycle through all five stages. But the benefits of napping start kicking in during stage 1 and 2 light sleep, which you can achieve in just 20 minutes.

Reaching Light Sleep

When you first fall asleep, your body goes into stage 1 sleep. This transition period lasts about 5-10 minutes. Your brain waves start to slow down as you drift off. Muscle activity and eye movements also decrease.

At about minute 10, you move into stage 2 light sleep. Your body temperature drops and heart rate slows as you become disengaged from your surroundings. Your brain waves continue declining compared to wakeful activity.

After 10-25 minutes in stage 2 sleep, your nap comes to an end and you wake up feeling refreshed. The short period lets your body recharge while avoiding grogginess from deeper sleep stages.

Waking Up Refreshed

Ideally, you’ll wake up at the end of a sleep cycle so you feel refreshed. Waking up during deep sleep like stages 3-5 leads to disorientation and grogginess.

20 minute naps timed well let you wake up from light sleep feeling energized. Your cognitive abilities get a boost while avoiding a lengthy recovery from deeper sleep.

If you take longer naps and enter REM sleep, you might experience sleep inertia – a period of fogginess as your brain re-aligns internal rhythms.[10] With good 20 minute nap timing, you can wake up ready to go.

Tips for Productive 20 Minute Naps

Now that you know why 20 minute power naps are so beneficial, here are some tips to make the most of your nap time:

Time it Right

Our bodies crave naps around midday when we have a dip in alertness and performance. The ideal nap window is between 1-3 p.m. Napping too late in the day could impact your nighttime sleep.

Limit Caffeine and Nicotine

Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants that make falling asleep difficult. Avoid coffee, energy drinks, and other sources of caffeine for at least eight hours before napping.

Relax Your Environment

Find a cool, quiet, and dark place to nap like an empty conference room or phone booth. Use an eye mask, ear plugs, or noise cancelling headphones to block out light and sounds.

Set an Alarm

Use a gentle alarm or vibration to wake up after 20 minutes. Setting an alarm prevents you from oversleeping and feeling groggy when you wake up.

Ease Back Into Your Day

After your alarm goes off, take a few minutes to stretch and let your mind ease back into focus before jumping into work. Have a cup of tea or snack to refresh your body.

Supplement with Caffeine

Some extra caffeine about 20 minutes before your nap can help induce drowsiness. The caffeine kicks in to sharpen focus right as you’re waking up.

Maximizing the Benefits of Napping

With some tweaking and experimentation, you can make 20 minute power naps a productive daily routine:

Determine Your Ideal Nap Length

The benefits of napping start within 10-20 minutes, but everyone’s perfect timing is slightly different. Try naps ranging from 15-30 minutes to find your ideal length.

Optimize Your Nap Schedule

Pay attention to your daily energy fluctuations to find the best nap times for you. Take note of when you start to feel tired and how long the benefits last after napping.

Support Healthy Nighttime Sleep

Napping complements your nightly sleep but doesn’t replace the need for a full night’s rest. Focus on good sleep hygiene like limiting screen time before bed.

Improve Your Napping Spot

Experiment with pillows, blankets, white noise, aromatherapy, and other tools to create an environment primed for quality napping.

Stick to a Routine

Consistency helps maximize the benefits. Maintain fixed nap times during the workweek to sync your body with a schedule.

Who Shouldn’t Nap?

While power naps are beneficial for most people, there are some instances where napping could do more harm than good:

People with insomnia

Napping can make it harder to fall asleep at night for those already struggling with sleep disorders like insomnia.

Night shift workers

For those with unusual sleep schedules, napping before night shifts could impair job performance.

People with sleep apnea

Those at risk of sleep apnea may want to avoid napping in chairs or couches which could restrict breathing.

Older adults

As we age, our sleep patterns change and napping could potentially disrupt nighttime sleep for seniors.

If you fall into any of these categories, check with your doctor before making naps a daily habit.

The Bottom Line

Napping for 20 minutes provides a multitude of benefits with very little cost or risk for most people. By taking some time to rest and recharge during the day, you can boost productivity, brain function, and overall wellbeing. Experiment with these napping best practices to find times and techniques that work for your schedule and lifestyle. Soon, you’ll be napping your way to increased energy, improved learning, and better performance all day long. Sweet dreams!


[1] Naska, A., Oikonomou, E., Trichopoulou, A., Psaltopoulou, T., & Trichopoulos, D. (2007). Siesta in healthy adults and coronary mortality in the general population. Archives of internal medicine, 167(3), 296-301.

[2] Milner, C. E., & Cote, K. A. (2009). Benefits of napping in healthy adults: impact of nap length, time of day, age, and experience with napping. Journal of sleep research, 18(2), 272-281.

[3] Lemos, N. A., Weissheimer, J., & Ribeiro, S. (2014). Naps in school can enhance the duration of declarative memories learned by adolescents. Frontiers in systems neuroscience, 8, 103.

[4] Antony, J. W., & Paller, K. A. (2017). Hippocampal contributions to declarative memory consolidation during sleep.

[5] Vgontzas, A. N., Zoumakis, E., Bixler, E. O., Lin, H. M., Follett, H., Kales, A., & Chrousos, G. P. (2004). Adverse effects of modest sleep restriction on sleepiness, performance, and inflammatory cytokines. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 89(5), 2119-2126.

[6] Faraut, B., Boudjeltia, K. Z., Vanhamme, L., & Kerkhofs, M. (2012). Immune, inflammatory and cardiovascular consequences of sleep restriction and recovery. Sleep medicine reviews, 16(2), 137-149.

[7] Takahashi, M. (2003). The role of prescribed napping in sleep medicine. Sleep medicine reviews, 7(3), 227-235.

[8] Shapiro, C. M., Bortz, R., Mitchell, D., Bartel, P., & Jooste, P. (1981). Slow-wave sleep: a recovery period after exercise. Science, 214(4526), 1253-1254.

[9] Waterhouse, J., Atkinson, G., Edwards, B., & Reilly, T. (2007). The role of a short post-lunch nap in improving cognitive, motor, and sprint performance in participants with partial sleep deprivation. Journal of sports sciences, 25(14), 1557-1566.

[10] Ferrara, M., & De Gennaro, L. (2000). The sleep inertia phenomenon during the sleep-wake transition: theoretical and operational issues. Aviation, space, and environmental medicine, 71(8), 843-848.