It is common to have an early afternoon dip in energy. Perhaps you didn’t sleep well the night before, had a large lunch, or your body and mind just need recharging.

That’s when a “power nap” can help. A brief midday sleep is an easy and effective way to boost your energy and avoid dragging through the rest of your day. But, determining how long to nap, and when and where to do it are important aspects of getting the most benefit out of some down time.

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Dr. Nancy Behrens

Dr. Nancy Behrens of Novant Health Sleep Medicine – Matthews answers some common questions about the good and bad of napping for adults.

Why is it called a power nap?

It happens in a relatively short time period, but it provides a lot of benefit. A power nap can help you to feel more alert, less sleepy, boost your creativity and productivity, decrease stress and increase your immune system function.

How long should a nap last?

If you sleep for 20 minutes or less, you're more likely to stay in the lighter stages of sleep, which can be refreshing. If you go for a longer nap, over 30 minutes, you're probably going to enter slow wave sleep. That's a very deep stage of sleep that can be hard to wake up from. You might actually feel less refreshed.

What is the best time to take a power nap?

If you're able to get a power nap in after lunch, that's a really a great time to do it. You don’t want to nap in late afternoon because that could interfere with that night’s sleep.

How has stress around the COVID-19 pandemic affected sleep?

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Some people are getting more sleep, because they're working from home and don't have that commute time. They might be able to sleep in and get more sleep than they had been. On the other hand, others are stressed about health, finances and other stressors that affect sleep. During the pandemic, some people working from home can get way off their schedules. The same is true if they're not working. People typically sleep best if they have a daily routine. If you have no schedule, and everything's kind of all over the map, you may begin having sleep problems.

What specifically happens to your brain when you take a short nap?

Your brain gets to rest a bit, tune out all the external stimuli and everything that you're doing for work. One chemical that’s involved in alertness is adenosine, which increases the longer we’re awake and signals your body to become drowsy. Caffeine decreases effects of adenosine and sleep does, as well. A natural way to increase your alertness by decreasing the amount of adenosine in the brain would be to get a brief nap.

What’s the best setting for a power nap?

Get away from everything going on. If you can, lie down some place comfortable. Make everything a little darker, or use a sleep mask if you can't darken the room. Earplugs can be helpful, too. Use a light blanket if available.

What about someone who needs a lot of naps to catch up on sluggish sleep at night? Is that a bad sign?

If you're never feeling refreshed, we worry that you may have a sleep disorder. Sleep apnea is a common disorder that we see, where people stop breathing at night. Often, they're snoring and waking up during the night. Some people have restless legs and leg movements during the night. Some people act out dreams where they're actually thrashing around and fighting in their sleep. If somebody is very sleepy during the day and does not have symptoms of other sleep conditions, we consider disorders like narcolepsy.

Is there a magic number of naps you should be taking? What is too many or too few?

It's OK to nap as long as it’s not taking away from your nighttime sleep. Some people make a habit of putting time aside to rest and getting a power nap each day. That can be very healthy. It's a nice way to decrease your stress levels. Even if you don't doze off for an actual nap, just taking that time to be quiet, rest your brain, relax a little, can be very healthy.

Power naps sound beneficial, but what is the healthiest sleep strategy?

The most important way to feel well rested is to get enough sleep at night, typically 7½ to 8 hours for most adults. Routinely missing the mark creates a sleep deficiency and long-term effects can include being at higher risk for high blood pressure, increased blood sugar levels, obesity and heart problems.