Are Naps Good For You? The Benefits and Risks of Adult Napping

to nap or not

Understanding the Concept of Napping

Napping refers to the short periods of sleep in the daytime; they’re distinct from the main period of sleep and can provide a quick way to recharge and combat fatigue throughout the day. This quick snooze could range anywhere from five minutes to 30 minutes, or even up to two hours depending on individual needs and circumstances.

Why Do People Nap?

People nap for a variety of reasons often revolving around the need for a quick energy boost and to decrease the feeling of fatigue. 

  • The tradition of siesta, a scheduled nap in certain cultures, speaks volumes about the perceived benefits of this practice. 
  • For many, a nap is a moment of relaxation and an escape from daily stresses. Then, there are people who nap out of necessity – due to shifts in work schedules, sleep disorders or to compensate for lack of adequate night sleep. 
  • For some elderly people or those with certain medical conditions, daytime sleeping could be a part of their routine due to the body’s demand for more rest.

The Science Behind Napping

How Sleep Works During Nap Time

Sleep, whether during the night or a nap, unfolds in a series of stages forming a sleep cycle. When you nap for 10 to 20 minutes, you enter the lightest stages of sleep – stage one and possibly stage two. This short duration is just enough to refresh you, and it’s what’s considered an ideal nap.

During Stage 1, which lasts about one to seven minutes, you’re in the lightest stage of sleep. Following this, stage 2 ensues lasting about 10 to 25 minutes. Sleep in this stage is relatively light, but the muscles are more relaxed than in Stage 1, and body functions slow down slightly.

Beyond this point is stage 3, a deeper, more restorative and harder to wake from sleep. Then there is the REM (Rapid eye movement) stage where dreaming occurs as the eyes move quickly under closed eyelids, and the body’s muscles are temporarily paralyzed.

A full sleep cycle for adults usually lasts between 90 to 110 minutes. Napping often only allows time for the first few stages of sleep, making it easier to wake up refreshed. However, longer naps could lead you into deeper sleep making it harder to wake up and leaving you feeling groggy which is often not desirable from a nap.

The Role of Circadian Rhythm in Napping

Circadian rhythm, also often referred to as your “body’s clock,” plays a significant part in the timing of sleepiness and wakefulness. This rhythm runs on a 24-hour cycle and influences sleep patterns, feeding habits, hormone release and other bodily functions.

While the strongest drive to sleep occurs during the night, most people also experience a natural dip in alertness in the early afternoon, sometimes known as the “post-lunch dip.” This drop in energy levels is not necessarily tied to eating lunch but largely determined by our circadian rhythm.

Taking a nap during this period can help combat feelings of sluggishness and recharge the body for the rest of the day. However, it’s important to ensure you time your nap correctly. If your nap is too late in the day, it may interfere with your nighttime sleep, especially if you are someone who already struggles with nighttime sleep or insomnia. 

An ideal time for a nap is usually mid-afternoon, around 2 or 3 pm when you might notice your energy levels dropping. This timing works well with most people’s circadian rhythm, allowing for a restful sleep.

Remember that understanding your own sleep drive, sleep architecture and respecting your body’s natural circadian rhythm is vital when timing your naps to make the most of its benefits.

The Benefits of Taking a Nap

Small Naps Bring Big Benefits

Indeed, a brief, well-timed nap can work wonders for your mental and physical well-being. According to research by University College, London, regular short naps can keep your brain healthier and larger, possibly delaying ageing by between three and six years. Napping refreshes the mind, enhances your perception, motor skills, accuracy and decision-making ability.

Even a 10-minute nap can significantly improve alertness and cognitive performance. Research also suggests that a nap can lower tension and blood pressure, which have a significant impact on heart disease. Also, according to Dr. Victoria Garfield, everyone could potentially benefit from napping, and it’s an easy habit to adopt compared to weight loss or exercise.

In a hurried world where getting enough sleep might seem like a problem, napping could serve as a bridge for many to maintain and enhance everyday performance and ensure better health.

However, while short naps bring big benefits, it’s crucial to keep them concise to prevent grogginess and a disrupted night-time sleep. Many researchers recommend keeping naps to less than half an hour to reap the most benefits.

How Naps Can Help Improve Memory

Several pieces of research suggest that napping can have a substantial positive impact on memory and learning. A 2015 study published in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory found that naps could help in memory consolidation, the process by which newly learned information is transferred from short-term to long-term memory.

In a typical learning sequence, information is first acquired, then consolidated, and subsequently, it can be retrieved. While sleeping, and particularly during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, your brain replays whatever you learned when awake. It’s a part of the consolidation process, and it apparently strengthens the neural connections that form our memories.

A study conducted in Germany revealed that a six-minute nap could improve information recall significantly, while a longer nap of 45 minutes could also boost memory five-fold. It’s also believed that napping might enhance creative problem-solving and logical reasoning abilities because these functions are related to the brain’s ability to recall and combine disparate pieces of information.

Another reason why naps can be beneficial for the memory could be because they help prevent information overload. Taking a nap after learning something new can help your brain lock in the new information.

No wonder many educational institutions worldwide are promoting power naps during school hours to maximize learning abilities of the students.

Napping for Better Moods and Increased Creativity

Taking a nap can certainly help in improving your mood and fostering creativity. Brief periods of sleep can help replenish energy levels and bring about a sense of rejuvenation, resulting in an enhanced mood and increased positivity.

Clinical research has demonstrated that a quick nap prompts a significant decrease in impulsive behavior and improves the ability to tolerate frustration. Such findings have substantial implications for understanding the relationship between sleep and mental health.

Moreover, creativity is often linked to rest and relaxation, with sleep being one of the most restful states the human body can achieve. A study published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” found that REM sleep directly enhances creative processing more than any other sleep or wake state. This factor particularly indicates that napping, especially longer naps achieving REM sleep, can help us combine disconnected pieces of information in new and useful ways.

On a practical level, well-rested individuals are likely to be better problem-solvers and innovators. They are more capable of thinking out of the box and react positively to changes and challenges, as they can approach various situations with a clear and relaxed mind. Hence incorporating a good nap in your daily routine can elevate your creativity to new heights.

Naps Can Ease Stress and Increase Alertness

Stress can take a severe toll on our bodies, and getting enough sleep is one of the key ways we can keep it under control. Napping is an effective tool to combat stress and anxiety. It offers a break from the daily hustle and bustle, providing your mind and body a chance to unwind, rejuvenate, and restore. It can be a brief period of solace where you can detach from your immediate environment and relieve yourself from external pressures.

A study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation revealed that a 20-30 minute nap could significantly improve mood, alertness, and performance. Napping can also be a productive way to alleviate drowsiness and restore alertness. According to sleep experts, a nap as short as 10 minutes can offer immediate benefits like increased alertness and improved motor performance, which can last up to a few hours.

By reducing tiredness and increasing energy levels, napping also enhances the ability to focus, follow through with tasks, and ultimately be productive throughout the day. So next time you feel stressed or moody during the day, consider switching off for 10 or 20 minutes. Your body, brain, and co-workers will thank you.

Using Napping Tools

Consider Trying a Nap Pod

A “nap pod” is a modern tool designed to provide a quiet, private space for napping, especially in working environments where private space may be limited. These pods come in different shapes and sizes, and some are equipped with features for sleep optimization, such as built-in music, calming lights, and even vibrations that simulate deep breathing to aid relaxation and promote a quick nap.

In the corporate world, organizations like Google, NASA, and various universities worldwide have recognized the rejuvenating power of naps and deployed nap pods to support their employees’ and students’ wellbeing and productivity.

Nap pods offer a potential solution to the challenge of finding a suitable ‘nap environment’ within a busy office, allowing you to catch some quality shut-eye amidst the hustle and bustle.

While nap pods may be an ideal solution for workplace napping, they can be costly. If you’re considering one for home use, make sure it aligns with your budget first. Alternatively, look into creating your ‘nap environment’ at home using elements like a comfortable chair, blackout curtains, and a white noise machine to help replicate the ideal nap conditions.

The Idea Behind NASA Naps

NASA has been a fervent advocate of napping, notably due to the demanding schedules and irregular sleep patterns of astronauts. In a famous study led by NASA and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, they determined that a 40-minute nap improved the performance of pilots and astronauts by 34% and alertness by 54%.

This study birthed the concept of the “NASA nap” – around 26 minutes of sleep, which was found to be the optimal nap duration for improving performance among their astronauts and pilots without leaving them groggy upon waking.

These findings support the idea that short naps can play a critical role in maintaining attention and precision in complex tasks, something that can also apply in many professions, not just for astronauts and pilots. A NASA nap could be something you might want to consider, especially if your day involves tasks that require a great deal of focus and attention to detail.

The Nap Bed (aka Human Dog Bed)

Human dog bed size

The Nap Bed, also humorously known as the “Human Dog Bed,” is essentially a bed designed specifically for taking naps. It’s a product that has been engineered to create the perfect environment for quick, comfortable, and restorative naps and can be an interesting solution for those seeking a dedicated spot for their daytime snooze sessions.

These nap beds come in various designs, with some resembling an oversized, luxurious dog bed, complete with soft, cozy edges for the user to lean against, while others may look more like a conventional bed but with the comfort components significantly enhanced for the sole purpose of napping.

Many of these beds incorporate features that promote relaxation and restful sleep, such as high-quality mattresses for optimum support, plush covers for added comfort, and even options like built-in speakers for nature sounds or white noise.

While users swear by the benefits of these dedicated nap spaces, it’s essential to consider your specific needs, space availability, and budget before investing. Make sure that having a separate nap bed complements and not complicates your sleep routine.

Potential Risks of Napping

Drawbacks of Excessive or Irregular Napping

While naps can offer several benefits, they can also have negative consequences when not managed properly. Here are some potential drawbacks of excessive or irregular napping:

  1. Sleep Inertia: If a nap lasts longer than 20-30 minutes, you may fall into deeper stages of sleep and experience grogginess and disorientation after waking up.
  2. Reduced Night-time Sleep Quality: Napping too long or too late in the day can interfere with night-time sleep, especially problematic for individuals who already have sleep problems like insomnia.
  3. Health Risks: As per a 2015 meta-analysis, daytime naps longer than 60 minutes are associated with a higher risk of heart disease and an increased chance of mortality from all causes.
  4. Impact on night-time Sleep: Overly long daytime naps can result in insomnia at night. It’s best to keep naps limited and at a consistent time to maintain a stable sleep routine.

On a side note, sudden changes in your nap routine or feeling the constant need for a nap may indicate an underlying health problem. Prolonged tiredness can be a sign of sleep disorders, mental health issues, or physical illnesses. If you have any concerns about your napping or sleep habits, it’s best to consult with a healthcare professional.

So, is napping good for you?

Based on the comprehensive information provided in this article, I believe it’s evident that napping, when done correctly, can provide you with substantial cognitive and health benefits. As someone who tends to feel drained in the afternoons, a short 20-30 minute nap could help boost their energy, mood, alertness, and performance. This would help them be more productive in work and personal life without negatively impacting the nighttime sleep.

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Jane Downey, lead Sleep Technologist brings over 30 years of experience in sleep medicine, ensuring that you receive the highest level of care and expertise throughout your sleep study journey.


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