A woman sitting at her desk rests her head on her forearms in a dimly-lit room.
If you find yourself struggling to stay alert, it could hint at an underlying medical problem—or the need for changes to your nighttime sleep routine. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Napping isn’t just for infants and children. Adults can get in on the action, too—they need only recognize the right time, place and circumstance.

Feeling fatigued or groggy during the day? That’s a good place to start. But you first need to determine why you’re feeling that way.

A nap can be refreshing and invigorating, helping you reenergize for a trip or for the workday, or whatever activity you’re undertaking, said Mary Barr, adult nurse practitioner in sleep medicine at Spectrum Health.

But the circumstances allowing for a nap will vary.

Generally speaking, you should only be napping during the day if you’re ill or if you’re trying to relieve pain. You could also nap amid abnormal circumstances—when you’re recovering from an acute injury, for example, or managing chronic illness.

Sometimes your schedule might deprive you of some much-needed sleep. If you find there’s no way to make it through the day without stealing a few quick moments of rest—or if you’re engaged in an activity that is simply wearing you down—a short nap is entirely acceptable.

Just be sure it’s a temporary solution. You should change your activities so you can keep to your regular schedule.

If you feel sleepy while driving, pull over in a safe place and catch a few Zzzs, Barr said. Likewise, when performing tasks that require high levels of attention, consider a nap to ward off fatigue.

If you’re at work, your nap needs to happen while on break or during your lunch hour.

“A 15-minute nap—often called a power nap—can refresh you when you are feeling sluggish or inattentive, groggy or not focused,” Barr said.

Generally, a 15- to 30-minute nap is enough. You can tell if you’ve slept too long because you’ll wake up feeling more groggy than before, she said.

There’s no ideal nap time, just whenever you feel sleepy during the day. Generally, this is after lunch for most people.

Falling asleep when napping is good, although you may not necessarily fall into any deep sleep stages.

Not all naps are equal

A word of caution: Don’t nap too late in the day or too close to your typical bedtime. Such naps can interfere with normal nighttime sleep routines, Barr said.

And make no mistake—you need a good night’s sleep every single night. Usually, if your sleep routine is good, you won’t need additional napping.

Barr offered a good rule of thumb: Make sure your nap is at least six to eight hours before your normal bedtime.

She also said that napping every day could be an indication you’re not getting enough rest at night. Bad sleep habits could cause this, but there could also be a medical problem. Sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome, for example, can make people feel sleepy during the day.

One American Academy of Sleep Medicine study that found frequent napping is associated with an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes in older adults.

Adults who don’t sleep well at night should analyze their sleep habits to see what might be interrupting their sleep. Stimulants such as caffeine or nicotine could be to blame, but bad sleep habits could also be the culprit.

Some other napping tips from Barr:

  • Keep the nap short—ideally about 30 minutes.
  • Make sure the nap is in a safe, comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed.
  • Avoid long weekend naps, especially if you don’t nap during the week.
  • Don’t resort to napping to make up for sleepless nights.

If sleepless nights are a recurring problem, you may need to seek help from a sleep professional to determine if there is an underlying medical cause.