Which Wins: Taking a Nap or Feeling Tired

We’ve all hit that wall in the middle of the day. Whether we’re at work on a weekday or out shopping with friends on the weekend, it seems only a nap (or a really big cup of coffee) could knock us out of our drowsy state. While naps carry a stigma of being something only lazy people or those without enough going on do (how rude!), countries across the world designate time in their everyday life for short sleeping periods in the middle of the day to regain energy and alertness. So, should you set aside time in the middle of your day for some shut eye or power through your tiredness?

When should I take a nap?

There seems to be a strong line between people who believe in naps and people who don’t. Some say naps only make them sleepier, but research shows the key to a good nap is all in how long and what time of day you snooze.

A study from the research journal Sleep compared the benefits of napping at various lengths of time to not napping at all. The results found that a 10-minute nap was best for reducing sleepiness and improving cognitive performance.

Why am I more tired after a nap?

Although different for everyone, a nap lasting longer than 20 or 30 minutes could trigger sleep inertia, which is that groggy feeling you get after just waking up, so set an alarm to wake you up before that deep sleep sets in.

In addition, you’ll also want to choose the right time of day to drift off. Most people’s inner body clock strikes tiredness between 1 and 4 p.m., so try syncing your nap to this period of day. If you nap too late into the evening, you’ll interfere with your ability to fall asleep later that night. Plus, it’s worth it to nap earlier in the day. Not only will you feel more active directly following the rest, but you may even experience extended alertness a few hours after waking up.

How to feel less tired

If you’re one of those people who just can’t nap during the middle of the day and are feeling drained, get up and take a walk. Activity raises your body temperature, which in turn can boost alertness for some time afterward. Keep in mind if your eyelids feel heavy your body is saying you’re tired. Experiencing this too often could turn into a significant sleep debt, which is the total hours of sleep lost after multiple nights of not getting enough shut-eye. For example, if you require eight hours of sleep each night and are only getting seven, after a week it will feel as if you pulled an all-nighter.

We get it, though. Your schedule is busy and holding a 9 to 5 job means you can’t exactly snooze in the middle of the day. One study found missing even 90 minutes of sleep one night a week reduced daytime alertness by 32 percent, so try going to bed just 15 minutes earlier each night. Soon, you’ll create a routine of getting under the covers at a decent time and won’t feel that after-lunchtime lull the next day.

Should anyone steer clear of naps? Well, if you’re prone to insomnia or already sleep poorly at night, an afternoon siesta night worsen these problems and interfere with your already difficult time sleeping. In this case, push through the tiredness with a walk around the block or extra shot of espresso.

When it comes down to it, research shows if you snooze you don’t lose. As long as you sleep for less than 30 minutes and only between the hours of 1 and 4 p.m., you’ll reap the reward of a short catnap, including improved mood, increased alertness and heightened performance. Happy napping!

Emily is a recent graduate and proud Midwesterner who just moved to the big city to start her career in magazine journalism. When she isn't commuting between Brooklyn and Manhattan, she enjoys browsing bookstores for her next read, sipping chai tea lattes at local coffee shops, and playing tourist in the city she always dreamed of living in.