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Do Naps Count as Sleep?

Do Naps Count as Sleep?

While both napping and sleeping help the body recover, they are two very different activities. There are many glaring differences between sleeping and napping but the biggest and most significant disparity is the length of time spent resting with the eyes, typically, closed.

In the simplest sense, naps are shorter sleep sessions. When a person sleeps, the body goes through a stage-by-stage process that helps the body recover the longer and deeper a person’s rest lasts. Napping only reaches the first or second stages of the process – the earliest parts of the process.

A person only needs 10 to 20 minutes to enter the early stages of the sleep cycle. Resting farther than the first and second stages of sleep makes the brain less and less responsive to environmental stimuli. As the body becomes more and more unresponsive to external stimuli, it is more likely it is to be affected by sleep inertia, grogginess, and fatigue.

Below are the most significant differences between napping and sleeping:

10 minutes – 30 minutes*Best Length7 hours – 9 hours (adults)*
Does Not Allow

a Complete Cycle

Maximum Number of

Sleep Cycles

Non-REM SleepDoes It Include Non-REM Sleep? REM Sleep?Both
AfternoonsBest TimeNight

* – may vary depending on the age of the subject 

Sleep and its Physiological Impact

When you’re awake, your body needs much more resources to operate at optimal conditions. This is why it controls various aspects of wellness like temperature, blood pressure, and levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and glucose in the blood.

As you sleep, your body has far fewer physiological demands. The body temperature and blood pressure drop and various physiological functions, like brain wave activity, breathing, and heart rate change.

The Sleep Cycle

As the body falls asleep, it involuntarily follows a cycle. The deeper your sleep becomes, the farther along it moves through the stages of the sleep cycle. Primarily, there are four stages to one sleep cycle. There are, however, institutions that add one more part to the process, making five stages overall.

The first three stages fall under what experts call non-rapid eye movement sleep or non-REM sleep (NREM sleep). The final stage, on the other hand, is what experts know as rapid eye movement sleep or REM sleep.

Below are each of the steps, their differences, and their effects and contributions to the body and recovery:

Stage One NREM

The first stage of sleep happens early on as you relax and fall into a state of rest. Stage One NREM marks the shift from being awake to being asleep. During this part of the sleep cycle, your muscles start to relax. Your heart rate, your breathing, and your eye movements start becoming slower. Your brain waves also start to slow down, which is typically active when your body is awake.

The first stage of the sleep cycle often lasts several minutes, allowing the body to relax and ease itself into a deeper state of rest. This officially starts the sleeping process.

Stage Two NREM

The second stage of the sleep cycle is a noticeably deeper state of sleep. During this phase, your breathing and heart rate continues to slow down. Your muscles relax even further as you continue to sleep.

At this point of the cycle, eye movement finally stops and your body temperature starts to drop. Generally, the brain waves remain slow. However, there may be times when there may be brief moments of higher-frequency electrical activity.

In most cases, Stage Two NREM is the longest out of all the stages of the sleep cycle.

Stage Three NREM

Stage Three NREM plays a crucial role in ensuring that your body feels refreshed and more alert when you wake up the next day. It is at this stage of the cycle where heart rate, breathing, and brain wave activity all reach the lowest possible levels. All the muscles in your body will also be as relaxed as they can possibly be. This part of the sleep cycle lasts longer at first and drastically decreases in duration as the night wears on.

Stage Four REM

Just 90 minutes after you fall asleep, the first REM stage occurs to finish one cycle. During this final stage, the eyes move rapidly back and forth under your eyelids, just like the name suggests. Breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure all start to increase during this last stage, and your arms and legs become paralyzed. It is widely believed that the arms and legs become paralyzed so the body doesn’t physically act out the dreams.

It is at Stage Four REM that dreams start occurring. As the cycle repeats while you’re asleep and the night progresses, the duration of each REM stage increases. Studies have even linked REM sleep with the important process of memory consolidation, the process that allows the body to convert short-term memory into long-term memory. The length of REM sleep people get decreases as people age, causing most of their sleep to be spent in the NREM stages.

Why Nap?

There is strong scientific evidence that naps can massively help the brain and body recover from fatigue and improve alertness.

The defining feature of a nap is to make sure that you don’t go too far into the sleep cycle. Doing so may make you feel even more tired and disoriented than before you take your nap. Naps are excellent countermeasures to fatigue. But for many adults, the effects of napping may vary. To optimize the napping experience, experts and leading authorities in sleep studies have well-researched recommendations that will aid you in developing healthy napping habits.

How Long Should Naps Be?

Various institutions have agreed that the longest nap you should be taking is 30 minutes. Napping any longer than 30 minutes increases the risks of falling victim to sleep inertia, possibly causing disorientation and diminished performance. Simply put, napping for too long can be counterproductive.

You can consider that you may have napped too much if it begins to interfere with your regular sleep schedule. There will be times that napping for 90 minutes can be refreshing, but if you take naps this long too late into a day, the effects may be problematic. In fact, there is a risk of becoming dependent on naps. In these cases, instead of getting a consistent sleep fit for your regular schedule, you start becoming dependent on naps, which may contribute to fragmented sleep and sleep disorders like insomnia.

Experts did note that naps don’t affect everyone in the same ways. Research suggests that instances where naps affect sleep are more likely to occur in older adults. Naps affect younger and middle-aged adults’ sleep much less.

Ultimately, the best way to gauge how long your naps should be is to evaluate daily energy levels and sleep patterns. Consider how much sleep you usually have and how frequently you nap. If you still feel fatigued and sleepy, you may need to consider changing your sleep habits.

Benefits of Napping

Studies show that naps aren’t just for growing children. In fact, afternoon naps are great for working adults, too. Authorities in sleep studies revealed that short naps in the afternoon can enhance your memory, elevate job performance, and generally make you feel better. Naps can make people more alert and feel much less stressed.

Research that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted found that both short 30-minute naps and longer 90-minute naps can increase alertness. Various studies from several thought leaders and institutions have yielded unanimous results in exploring the many benefits of healthy napping.

With these in mind, naps can be beneficial for professionals who work irregular shifts and struggle with getting the right amount of sleep. Naps can also be a great help to parents who care for children even during the wee hours of the morning

Fatigue Reduction

Naps, like sleep, have restorative capabilities, albeit at a less potent capacity. When you feel like you hadn’t gotten enough sleep, you may want to consider taking naps at strategic times of your schedule. Doing so may counteract any drowsiness or fatigue you may be feeling throughout the day.

Improved Performance

Studies discovered that taking naps during the day for 10 to 30 minutes can improve performance and efficiency at work. The participants of the study showed improvement in psychomotor speed, reaction time, and alertness.

Enhanced Learning Capabilities

The NSF shared that a nap during the day can improve cognitive functions like memory and logical reasoning, allowing people to complete complex tasks with much more ease. Napping can help you remember the things you’ve just learned and also helps your brain recognize connections between things you discover. A study even found that those who nap found it easier to make associations between the information they gathered earlier that day.

Lowers Risk for Cardiovascular issues

There are studies, while limited, that show that napping one or two times a week is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular concerns. These findings are important because heart problems are the leading cause of death in the United States. The heart conditions that the experts mentioned in the study include stroke, heart attack, and various other heart diseases.

Lowers Blood Pressure

Recent studies show that midday naps can help lower a person’s blood pressure. A separate study that experts presented at the 2019 American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session concluded that naps help people lower their blood pressure just as effectively as cutting off salty food and alcohol from diets.

Another study found that naps lowered blood pressure by 5mm Hg on average. For context, this is just as good as taking a low-dose blood pressure medication. These medications typically lower blood pressure by 5 – 7 mm Hg. To emphasize how important these aids are, a 2 mm Hf drop can reduce the risk of heart by 10%.

Elevates Mood

Napping can affect your overall mood, as well. Experts share that a person’s mood can improve through relaxation that comes from lying down or resting, even when you don’t even fall asleep or go for a nap. Studies show that there has been an association between naps and increased positivity and better tolerance for frustration. Napping can immediately make you feel less tired and irritable if you find yourself struggling to stay awake. If you haven’t gotten enough sleep the night before, you can certainly find a nice mood boost from a quick nap.

Excellent Alternative to Caffeine

Irresponsible consumption of caffeine can lead to its own set of medical conditions. This is why naps are an excellent alternative to coffee and energy drinks people are so fond of. People often fell asleep right after lunch. In these cases, you may want to take a 20-minute nap instead of taking a trip to the coffee machine.

Overall, napping is a big help to working people from both a physical and mental aspect. It also helps you build interpersonal relationships as you will likely be much less frustrated and grumpy because of the naps you’ve been taking. Naps help you become smarter and perform better at work, possibly opening career growth opportunities in the future.

Does Napping Affect Sleep?

Generally, napping should affect your regular sleep schedule, given of course, that you don’t nap through two parts of the sleep cycle. When you nap for too long, the sleep inertia might become too strong and you might end up feeling disoriented and groggy.

However, for people who experience insomnia or poor sleep quality at night, napping may cause these problems to become even worse. Should this be the case, long or frequent napping may interfere with your regular sleep hours.

Other Drawbacks From Napping

In most cases, napping is purely beneficial. However, napping can still have its share of drawbacks for people with specific circumstances. For older adults, for example, napping during the day has reportedly caused sleep problems at night. Some older adults have woken up frequently during their regular sleep schedules.

A separate study that experts conducted in China found that napping for more than 90 minutes may actually have an association with high blood pressure in middle-aged and older women. Another study that researchers conducted on older Chinese people discovered that napping for more than 30 minutes may increase the risks of having non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. An assessment and in-depth evaluation of various studies found that naps that last for more than 60 minutes have been associated with increased risks of developing type 2 diabetes.

In summary, the connection between naps and health has yet to be conclusively determined. Fortunately current and future studies will help experts and the general populace gain a better understanding of both the risks and 

Tips for Having the Best Naps

Naps can help people of all ages alleviate fatigue and perform better at work. To improve mood, cognitive capabilities, and overall physical and mental condition, experts found various ways to help tired people recover from fatigue through quality napping.

A survey by the National Safety Council on employee wellness found that 67% of their respondents feel tired at work, 53% feel like they’re less productive, and 44% feel like they’re having trouble focusing. Fortunately, research suggests that napping can help improve these circumstances. While naps certainly aren’t the solution to all these problems, studies suggest that they can at least help improve the situation.

How do you improve nap quality? Experts have a few recommendations for you.

Avoid Napping Too Little Nor Too Much

Experts from the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine and American Sleep and Breathing Academy shared that the optimal duration for naps is between 20 minutes to 30 minutes. The experts believe that waking up 30 minutes into the nap will ensure that you’re still in the earlier stages of the sleep cycle, greatly diminishing sleep inertia and avoiding the lingering effects of grogginess.

Further, studies have seen a connection between napping for too long and fragmented sleeping. This means that if you nap for too long, you may experience poor sleep quality and you may wake up frequently at night.

However, if you really feel like you need a bit more sleep, consider waking up after 90 minutes. This ensures that the entire sleep cycle finishes before you wake up.

Improve Napping Environment

It’s important that you treat your naps in the same way you do your regular sleep. Set up your napping environment in the same way you would a room for sleeping. Dim the lights, improve ventilation to make it cool and chilly, and make the beddings – pillows and blankets – as comfortable as possible.

It may be worth noting that when it comes to napping, a cozy chair or a nice couch would be a better option than your actual bed. A nice comfortable bed might make you a bit too comfortable and make it hard for you to get back up and wake up.

If the environment you’re napping in needs some work, you may want to consider having blackout curtains up or maybe putting on eye masks. White noise machines are also popular additions to nap areas.

Winding Down

Some people may find it hard to just start napping. In some cases, you might even struggle to drift off to sleep. Experts recommend a wind-down period before you close your eyes and attempt to nap.

If you’re struggling to find the best way to start your nap, a wind-down period might just be what you need. Turn off the devices nearby like phones, desktop computers, televisions, and any other gadget that may distract you from trying to sleep. Minimizing distractions is pivotal to a good wind-down period.

Spend a few minutes just sitting quietly. During this time, you can try breathing exercises and maybe even some meditation. The goal is to feel as relaxed as possible before you finally close your eyes and begin your nap.

Waking Up

Waking up is probably the hardest part about taking a nap. Thankfully, experts have found ways to make waking up as painless as possible. Recommendations suggest using an alarm that gradually increases in volume. Setting your alarm to the highest possible volume can be startling not just for you but anyone else who might be sleeping nearby.

You can also opt for a song that starts slow and quiet and build louder as it progresses. If you don’t prefer these methods, you can also use an alarm clock with a light that gradually brightens. 


Ultimately, sleeping and napping are very different things. Essentially, however, naps are just much shorter sleep and they each provide very different benefits for the body. Sleeping helps the body recover to a much greater extent while naps are meant to support your mental health, help you become physically more productive, improve your cognitive capabilities, and elevate your mood.

However, napping does have its own share of risks. Just make sure that you don’t nap for too long and enhance your sleeping environment as much as you can.

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