Naps, Are They All the Same?

You may be surprised to learn that not all naps are created equal. Here we cover the different types of naps and how you can ensure you are getting the most out of your napping time.
Published March 7, 2022

National Napping Day is observed annually on the Monday after Daylight Savings Time begins, taking place this year on March 14th. This holiday aims to raise awareness about the health benefits of a taking nap and is the perfect day to catch up on sleep after losing an hour of it due to the “spring forward” time change. Daytime naps can serve as a quick and efficient way to re-energize and help support your body’s need for sleep.

The Different Types of Naps

Not all naps are created equal. In fact, they are categorized based on the functions they serve, and you can benefit from different types of naps depending on what your sleep needs are. Some examples of the different types of naps include:

Recovery Nap. This type of nap can help to compensate after sleep loss. If you stay up later than usual one night or have interrupted sleep where you are tossing and turning for hours, it’s quite likely you’ll feel exhausted the next day. A recovery nap can be beneficial for making up for that missed sleep.

Prophylactic Nap. This is the type of nap you would take prior to an expected sleep loss, such as an upcoming night shift. Prophylactic naps are typically longer than other naps, and usually last for a few hours. They are designed to prevent sleepiness that can occur while working at night and help to maintain alertness.

Appetitive Nap. An appetitive nap is one that you take because you enjoy napping rather than because you are sleep deprived. Appetitive naps are ideally no more than 30 minutes in duration. The benefits of this type of quick nap are that it can help you relax, improve your mood, and make you feel more alert and refreshed.

Fulfillment Nap. These are important for growing children, who need to nap more frequently than older adults. Infants may take short fulfillment naps throughout the day, whereas older children may need only one nap of longer duration in the afternoon.

Essential Nap. If you become sick, essential naps can help boost your immune system to fight off infection. The extra energy required to help your body heal during a period of illness can make you feel very tired, and napping is important for helping you recover.

Dos and Don’ts for Napping

Now that you know the type of nap that may best fit your sleep needs, you’ll want to follow best practices to ensure you get the most out of your naps. These simple dos and don’ts can help:

Napping Dos:

Keep Your Naps Short. The ideal length of time for a nap is 20 to 30 minutes. This gives your mind and body enough time to rest, but not so long that you fall into a deep sleep and wake up feeling groggy.

Nap in the Early Afternoon. It’s best to time your naps so they take place between 1 and 3 pm. Any earlier than that, and your body probably won’t be tired enough for a restful nap. Any later than that, and you risk interfering with your regular nighttime sleep.

Create a Calming Environment. Just like you would for your evening bedtime, it’s important to create a restful sleeping environment for your nap. This means finding a dark, quiet, and comfortable place to lie down such as your bed or a couch. You’ll also want to avoid distractions by turning off the television and silencing your phone. If outside light and noises are bothersome, you can grab a sleep mask and try a pair of ear plugs or a white noise machine to block out sounds.

Napping Don’ts:

Nap if it Affects Your Sleep. Naps aren’t for everyone. If you are someone that has difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep at night, it may be best to avoid daytime naps. They can affect the quality of your sleep at night and make it more challenging to fall asleep.

Let Stress Interfere. If you are feeling stressed or anxious about something, it will be more difficult to fall asleep and take a refreshing nap. Try some deep breathing or relaxation exercises to help stop your mind from spinning about your to-do list and other worries.

Force Naps. If your body isn’t tired, don’t force yourself to take a nap. When you have the energy to get through your day without one, it is best to push through and fall asleep at bedtime. Listen to your body, and only take a mid-day nap if you feel tired.