Why Can’t I Nap When Tired: Nap Advice

Medically reviewed by
 Dr. Jing Zhang, Neuroscientist

Dr. Jing Zhang, Neuroscientist

Jing Zhang is a prominent figure in the realm of sleep research, specializing in the intricate connection between sleep and memory. With an extensive research tenure exceeding 7 years, she…

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Last Updated On December 21st, 2023
Why Can’t I Nap When Tired: Nap Advice

Key Takeaways

  • Naps are Essential for Overall Well-Being: Napping is not just a luxury but plays a crucial role in maintaining good physical and mental health. Short naps have been associated with benefits such as improved brain health, enhanced cognitive functions, reduced stress, and a healthier immune system. Understanding the physiological benefits of naps emphasizes their importance for overall well-being.
  • Circadian Rhythm Alignment is Key to Successful Napping: The body’s internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm, significantly influences the effectiveness of naps. The natural dip in energy levels during the post-lunch period makes it an ideal time for a nap. Disruptions to the circadian rhythm, caused by irregular sleep schedules or exposure to artificial light, can make it challenging to nap.
  • Addressing Barriers and Optimizing the Napping Experience: Various barriers, including overthinking, environmental factors, and dietary choices, can hinder the ability to nap. Creating a nap-friendly environment, managing stress, avoiding stimulants, and adopting pre-nap routines are crucial steps to optimize the napping experience.

The urge to have a quick nap can be strong, especially on days when tiredness weighs heavily on your eyes. However, sometimes, despite the fatigue that begs for a brief escape into sleep, the elusive nap can dodge your grasp. And when you only have so much time to try and nap during the day, you often give up on it entirely when you have trouble falling asleep.

This post is about why you find it difficult to have a nap even though you are tired.

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Why Naps Are Important for Mind and Body?

Naps are more than just a brief break from the day’s hustle — they are essential for the mind and body, offering a wealth of benefits. Short naps can help with brain health Verified Source Johns Hopkins Medicine University focused on medical research that produces thoroughly reviewed health articles. View source and boost cognitive functions Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source such as memory, learning, Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source and creativity. Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source They also improve a person’s mood by giving their mind and body a chance to rest.

The physiological benefits of naps include

In individuals who experience insufficient nighttime sleep due to any issue or sleep disorder, naps can be beneficial to minimize the effects Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source of inadequate nighttime sleep. For example, naps are a common tool for those who work night shifts or back-to-back multiple shifts.

However, we must note that naps should not be used as a bandage for poor sleep hygiene. It’s important to make sure you’re doing all that you can to get a good night’s sleep, such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule.

Additionally, naps can uplift a person’s mood, Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source increase alertness, and enhance mental and physical performance. Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source

When the afternoon comes, and you feel like you need a pick-me-up, choose nap over caffeine,sleep scientist Dr. Jing Zhang suggests, as a 2008 study Verified Source ScienceDirect One of the largest hubs for research studies and has published over 12 million different trusted resources. View source shows that taking a nap is better for cognitive tasks compared to drinking coffee.

Why Do I Feel Tired During the Day?

The circadian rhythm, often referred to as the body’s internal clock, plays a crucial role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle and influencing our energy levels throughout the day. Governed by the brain’s hypothalamus, Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source this rhythm follows a roughly 24-hour cycle, responding to external cues such as light and darkness.

The primary driver of the circadian rhythm is the hormone melatonin, Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source which is released in response to decreasing light levels, signaling to the body that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep.

The circadian rhythm dictates our peak alertness and energy levels, typically reaching a zenith during the late morning and early afternoon. This natural dip in energy, known as the post-lunch dip, aligns with a drop in body temperature and an increase in melatonin production, making the mid-afternoon an ideal time for a nap.

However, individual variations exist, and disruptions to the circadian rhythm—such as irregular sleep schedules, exposure to artificial light at night, or shift work—can lead to difficulties in napping. There’s also the reverse issue of having too much energy at night, which can be the result of a condition such as delayed sleep phase syndrome.

If the circadian rhythm is out of sync or if external factors disrupt its natural flow, attempting to nap at the wrong time can result in difficulty falling asleep. Understanding and aligning with your body’s circadian rhythm and chronotype can enhance the effectiveness of napping, ensuring that you capitalize on the natural ebb and flow of alertness and fatigue throughout the day.

Common Barriers to Napping

If you feel tired but can’t sleep, there must be an underlying condition. Various factors affect your ability to take a nap. They disrupt the ability to relax and fall asleep.

Here are some of the most common barriers.

Overthinking and Stress

Overthinking — is one of the most common culprits that keeps us waking at night. This most common obstacle is found in our minds, which takes too much to turn off.

Overthinking and stress Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source can create a mentally challenging environment that is counterproductive to sleep. Worrying about daily tasks or ruminating over past or future events can keep the brain too active to slip into deep sleep.

Managing stress that can affect sleep and learning to observe your thoughts can help manage stress and keep your mind quiet for successful napping.

Environmental Factors

The environment in which you are trying to take a nap certainly matters the most. You can’t fall into a restful nap in a noisy place with an uncomfortable position and temperature.

Create a comfy and healthy sleep environment conducive to rest, such as a quiet, dark room with comfortable bedding and a moderate room temperature.

See our guides on how to optimize your sleep environment:

Dietary and Lifestyle Influences

Diet and lifestyle choices also impact the ability to nap. Consuming large and heavy meals, caffeine, or sugary foods and drinks can increase the alertness of your brain — leaving you too energized to fall asleep. Dr. Jing Zhang pointed out that sometimes people are unaware of how much caffeine they consume throughout the day. It’s not just coffee that keeps you up, things like energy drinks, energy bars, chocolate, tea, and many more all contain caffeine.

A sedentary lifestyle can also reduce the natural sleepiness that physical activity brings, while regular exercise can help regulate sleep. Try adding some moderate-intensity physical activities to your day. However, avoid engaging in vigorous exercise right before a nap.

Signs When You Need a Nap

Here are some key indicators that suggest a nap might be beneficial for you.

  1. Increase moodiness or irritability: If you find yourself feeling unusually irritable or moody, it could be a sign of sleep deprivation. A quick nap can help stabilize your mood and improve emotional regulation.
  2. Difficulty concentrating: Struggling to focus on tasks or experiencing a wandering mind can indicate mental fatigue. A nap can help refresh your cognitive functions, enhancing concentration and focus.
  3. Feeling physically exhausted: a physical sign of tiredness, heavy eyelids, frequent yawning, or just feeling physically drained are clear indicators that your body could benefit from some rest.
  4. Decreased performance: If you notice a drop in your efficiency or quality of work, it could be due to tiredness. Napping can help reset your mental alertness and improve performance.
  5. Increased sensitivity to stress: When you’re sleep-deprived, you might feel overwhelmed even by minor stressors. A nap can act as a buffer, giving you a break from stress and reducing overall anxiety.
  6. Memory issues: Difficulty in recalling information or learning new things can be tied to lack of sleep. Napping can aid memory retention and learning capabilities.
  7. Caffeine dependence: If you find yourself relying on caffeine to get through the day, it might be time to consider a nap instead. Caffeine takes time to wear off and can interfere with sleep at night. Naps can be a healthier way to regain energy, and sometimes they’re more effective than ingesting caffeine, too.

How Can I Take Naps?

Napping can significantly improve your overall well-being and productivity. Here is how to optimize your napping experience:

Create a Nap-Friendly Environment

The environment where you nap plays a crucial role. Choose a quiet room with minimal lights and distractions. It will help your body signal that it’s time to rest.

Use a comfortable bedding to help relax your body. Eye masks and blackout curtains can help provide the right atmosphere for a nap.

Keep the room temperature moderate; a bit cooler is preferred. A cozy blanket can help you feel more comfy.

Limit Exposure to Screens Before Napping

The blue light emitted by phones, tablets, and computers, along with their stimulating content, can interfere with your body’s relaxation. Reduce screen time at least 30 minutes before your planned nap to promote better sleep.

Timing Your Naps

Effective napping for good health can be achieved with the right timing. Aim for a short nap of about 20 to 30 minutes to avoid grogginess and ensure you don’t interfere with your nighttime sleep.

Longer naps can have their place, of course, but usually when it comes to the best nap length that won’t affect your sleep schedule, short power naps are what you should strive for.

The best time to power nap is usually the first half of your afternoon, around 1 to 3 PM when your energy levels get a natural dip. Napping too close to bedtime may interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night.

Pre-Nap Routines

Establish a pre-nap routine to help signal the brain that it’s time to wind down and rest. This could include dimming the lights, reading a book, or doing any other activity. You just have to avoid engaging in stimulating activities right before your nap.

Address Overthinking and Anxiety

If you experience mind racing when trying to nap, practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. These practices help quiet the mind and reduce stress, calming anxiety for better sleep.

Try any non-stimulating activity to dodge the trail of thoughts that keeps you awake at night. If you are experiencing chronic stress and anxiety, it is best to consult with a sleep specialist professional.

Dietary Consideration

Your meal choices greatly influence your sleep quality. Avoid heavy meals and stimulants close to nap time. Opt for a light and healthy bedtime snack when needed. A piece of fruit or a handful of nuts can do the job without affecting your nap.

Physical Activity and Napping

Regular physical activity can improve your sleep quality, including your naps. However, try to avoid rigorous exercises if you plan to take a nap during the day, just as you would avoid strenuous exercise close to bed. Rigorous workouts can be counterproductive to your goal of taking a nap.

When to Consult a Doctor for Difficulty Falling Asleep

While occasional difficulty in falling asleep or napping is normal, persistent issues may warrant consultation with a healthcare professional, particularly if it significantly impacts your daily life. Here are indicators that you should seek medical advice:

  1. Chronic Sleep Problems: If your difficulty in falling asleep or napping persists for more than a few weeks despite implementing healthy sleep habits and lifestyle changes, it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare provider.
  2. Intense Stress or Anxiety: Persistent overthinking, stress, or anxiety that interferes with your ability to relax and nap may require professional intervention. A healthcare provider, potentially a sleep specialist, can offer guidance on managing stress and anxiety.
  3. Irregular Sleep Patterns: If your sleep schedule is erratic or you are experiencing difficulties aligning with a consistent circadian rhythm, a sleep specialist can provide strategies to regulate your sleep-wake cycle.
  4. Excessive Daytime Sleepiness: If you find yourself excessively sleepy during waking hours, it may indicate an underlying sleep disorder such as sleep apnea. A sleep specialist can conduct evaluations to diagnose and address these issues.
  5. Dependency on Sleeping Pills: Relying on over-the-counter or prescription sleeping pills to initiate sleep or induce naps can be a sign of an underlying problem. Frequent use of sleeping pills may require professional evaluation to identify and address the root cause.
  6. Persistent Fatigue: If feelings of tiredness persist despite adequate sleep duration and proper sleep hygiene, it could be indicative of an underlying health issue. Consulting a doctor can help rule out medical conditions contributing to fatigue.
  7. Sleep Disorders: Conditions such as insomnia, narcolepsy, or restless leg syndrome can disrupt both nighttime sleep and daytime napping. If suspected, a sleep specialist can conduct thorough assessments to diagnose and recommend appropriate treatment.

When consulting with a healthcare provider, be prepared to discuss your sleep patterns, lifestyle, and any potential contributing factors. In some cases, a referral to a sleep medicine specialist may be necessary for a comprehensive evaluation. Remember, addressing sleep concerns proactively can lead to improved overall well-being and a more restful sleep experience.


Why am I tired but can’t take a nap?

If you feel tired and unable to nap, it could be due to increased stress levels, an overactive mind, or an environment that’s unsupportive to sleep. Your body’s internal clock might also be out of sync, particularly if you have irregular sleep patterns or consumed stimulants like caffeine.

Why is it difficult for me to take a nap?

Difficulty napping can stem from multiple factors, such as anxiety, an uncomfortable sleep environment, and consuming stimulants too close to nap time. If your body is not accustomed to daytime sleeping, it may resist shutting down, especially if you don’t have a regular nap routine.

How do I force myself to nap?

You can’t force yourself to nap. However, you can encourage your body to have a nap by creating a relaxing environment by dimming the lights, lying in a comfortable position, and eliminating noise. Try focusing on your breath and engaging in relaxing activities like reading.

Is excessive daytime sleepiness the same as fatigue or being too tired?

Excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) is related to feeling overwhelmingly sleepy and struggling to stay awake during the day. The condition is also oftenrelated to a sleep disorder like sleep apnea, which significantly affects the quality of your sleep.

While fatigue and being too tired may contribute to EDS, they encompass a broader range of sensations, including physical and mental weariness. EDS specifically refers to an increased propensity to fall asleep during waking hours.

Why is it hard to sleep when overtired?

When you’re overtired, your body can enter a state of hyperarousal, making it challenging to relax and initiate sleep. The stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline can remain elevated, hindering the natural sleep onset process. Additionally, overstimulation and an overactive mind can contribute to difficulty winding down.

How do you fix overtiredness?

Addressing overtiredness involves prioritizing consistent sleep patterns, creating a conducive sleep environment, and practicing good sleep hygiene. Establish a consistent sleep schedule, avoid stimulants close to bedtime, and engage in relaxing activities before sleep.

Adequate rest, proper nutrition, and stress management also play crucial roles in overcoming overtiredness. If issues persist, consulting a healthcare professional may be beneficial to identify and address any underlying sleep disorders or health concerns.


The struggle for a rejuvenating nap despite feeling tired is a common experience influenced by a blend of mental, physical, and environmental factors. Understanding the influences is the key to overcoming nap challenges and sleep problems.

Whether it is about managing your stress levels, optimizing your environment, or adjusting your diet and exercise routines, each plays a role in enhancing your ability to nap.

Napping is a skill that can be honed with practice and patience. Don’t be discouraged if napping doesn’t come easily at first, experiment with different strategies and routines, you can find the approach that works best for you.

About the author

April Mayer is a sleep expert and writer with a degree in exercise physiology. She has dedicated her career to exploring the relationship between sleep and productivity. Her insightful articles, such as "The Surprising Way Your Mood Might Be Messing With Your Productivity" and "Wake Up to More Productive Mornings," have been featured in reputable publications like Forbes, Greatist, Real Homes, Thrillist, Tom's Guide, and Eat This, Not That. With a passion for helping others lead more productive lives through restful sleep, April offers valuable expertise on foods and vitamins for better sleep. As a trusted member of the Early Bird team since March 2020, she continues to provide informative and well-researched content.

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