How to have the perfect nap: 4 golden rules to follow

Wake up refreshed and ready to go

woman napping next to a laptop
(Image credit: ANTONI SHKRABA production from Pexels)

If you've missed out on a good night's sleep, it can be tempting to try and squeeze in a daytime nap in the hopes of waking yourself up a bit. While a quick doze can help you feel reenergised, sometimes you'll find that you wind up feeling even groggier than before. Turns out, there's a right and a wrong way to nap if you want to ensure you wake up feeling refreshed. 

Sleep Awareness Week is nearly upon us (this year's event runs from the 13–19 March, with World Sleep Day on the Friday), so if you've been thinking of revamping your sleep habits, now's the time to do it. We also have guides to how to fall asleep quickly and how to sleep better at night, but if you've missed out on a good night's kip, here's are some golden rules to follow for the perfect daytime nap.

Rule #1: Don't nap after 3pm

“Napping too late in the day is likely to affect your natural sleep rhythm at night, which is why it’s best to avoid this where possible,"According to the sleep experts at Sleepseeker. They suggest timing your doze for late morning or early afternoon. If you opt for a nap at 7pm, it's going to mess up your sleep-wake cycle and likely do more harm than good.

Rule #2: Keep it to 20 minutes

How long should you nap for? Sleepseeker's experts suggest 20 minutes is the optimum length of time if you want to wake up feeling refreshed. There are other options which can be effective, too, though. If you're able to drop off quickly, a 10-minute power nap could be enough for an energy boost. Alternatively, if you're really sleep deprived, it might be best to opt for a full hour and a half. "A 90-minute doze could have a higher impact on productivity and alertness, with this allowing nappers to sleep through an entire cycle without interrupting deep sleep, which is likely to cause drowsiness," they explain. 

Rule #3: Set the scene for a quality doze

If you're going to get the best from your nap, it helps to set the scene to maximise sleep quality. That means finding a comfortable spot where you won't be bothered, blocking out sounds and light with earplugs and an eye mask. Sleepseeker even suggests using a napping playlist to help you wind down – if you want to listen to sounds, investing in a pair of the best sleep headphones could really help here. “However, remember not to get too comfortable by setting an alarm, and make sure not to snooze it. Snoozing your alarm will only make you feel groggy and tired!" they add. 

Rule #4: Game the system with a cup of coffee

There's a simple trick that can help you maximise the effects of your nap: have a cup of coffee before you sleep. “It takes 20 minutes for people to feel the effects of caffeine, which is why having caffeine before taking a power-nap could give nappers the ultimate boost in the afternoon. Simply try having a coffee before settling down for a sleep, and set your alarm for 20 minutes only. This will allow you to wake up feeling energised and ready to go.”

Ruth Hamilton

Ruth is a lifestyle journalist specialising in sleep and wellbeing. She has tested more mattresses than her small flat can handle and will talk at length about them to anyone who shows even a passing interest, and has had to implement a one-in-one-out pillow policy for fear of getting smothered in the night. As well as following all the industry trends and advancements in the mattress and bedding world, she regularly speaks to certified experts to delve into the science behind a great night's sleep, and offer you advice to help you get there. She's currently Sleep Editor on Tom's Guide and TechRadar, and prior to that ran the Outdoors and Wellness channels on T3 (now covered by Matt Kollat and Beth Girdler-Maslen respectively).