Is Napping Good for Me?
The technical term for feeling the need or pressure to sleep is homeostatic sleep drive. It works much like hunger or thirst we feel throughout the day.
After a good night’s sleep, our homeostatic sleep drive is low. As the day goes on, the pressure to sleep slowly increases until we hit “bed time,” when we feel sleepy and ready for another night of rest. Sleeping through the night is what decreases this pressure, and it’s a part of our daily cycle.
Of course, it’s not uncommon for most people, especially right now with high levels of stress and anxiety, to experience interrupted sleep or restless nights altogether. Therefore, the pressure to sleep during the day is felt much more often.
So, the short answer is yes—taking naps can be beneficial to your health. According to health experts, taking an afternoon nap or power-napping a few times per week may boost your brain and heart health.
However, depending on several factors including your age, health, your reason for napping, and how long you nap, it can also be harmful. Additionally, napping every day can throw off your body’s natural sleep cycle rhythm, contributing to interrupted sleep during the night.
First, let’s talk about the different types of naps, which can be categorized based on the “function” that they serve. Here are a few examples:
The Recovery Nap
Recovery naps are meant to compensate for sleep loss during the night. Whether you’re up late or are experiencing interrupted sleep, you’ll likely be feeling tired the next day. This is when that afternoon nap really comes in handy, especially since most adults are conditioned to wake up early for work.
The Prophylactic Nap
Prophylactics naps are like preventative naps. They’re generally taken in preparation for sleep loss by people who work night shifts such as doctors, nurses, police officers, and so on. These naps help prevent drowsiness and keep you alert during your work shift or activities.
The Appetitive Nap
Appetitive naps are taken solely for enjoyment. That’s right—you don’t need to feel exhausted to take a midday catnap. You can simply take one because you’re a little tired or you feel like it, and you’ll wake up feeling more relaxed with an improved mood and energy levels.
The Fulfillment Nap
Fulfillment naps typically refer to the naps that we make our children take. Children and babies have a much greater need for sleep compared to adults, which is why we schedule their daily naps.
These naps are critical to children’s growth and development, both physically and cognitively. It’s also why they seem to nap spontaneously, such as right after they eat.
The Essential Nap
Whenever you’re sick or recovering from an injury, you’ll have a much greater need for rest. This type of napping, known as essential napping, takes place because your immune system has signaled a response for your body to fight infection or promote healing, which requires a lot more energy.
What Are the Health Benefits of Napping?
As we mentioned above, napping can have positive effects on your heart and brain. Additionally, when we’re feeling a bit of afternoon fatigue, taking an appropriate nap can help to diminish that homeostatic sleep pressure.
Relieving this pressure can help us feel more alert and awake so we can perform better. Depending on the type of nap you take the overall benefits include:
- Increased alertness
- Reduced fatigue
- Improved performance
- Improved cognitive function
- Improved mood
However, we also mentioned that napping daily can also be harmful to your health. While reducing sleep pressure can help you maintain optimal energy levels throughout your day, those daily naps can also mess with your ability to fall asleep at night.
Therefore, people with certain health conditions, such as insomnia, should avoid napping during the day.
Improper napping can also cause sleep inertia. Sleep inertia is the name for the grogginess and disorientation some people feel after waking up from a nap. It usually occurs after napping for too long, but it can also occur after taking a short nap.
Sleep inertia is considered to be disruptive. So, if you need to get right back to work post-nap but often experience sleep inertia, then you should probably avoid taking naps.
Lastly, the need for a daily nap can be a sign of an underlying health issue. If you notice that you suddenly have an increased need for daily naps but there’s no obvious cause for it, it’s a good idea to pay a visit to your doctor.
This new pressure you’re feeling to nap during the day could be a side effect from taking medication, a sleep disorder, or another medical condition that’s disrupting your regular nighttime sleep cycle.
The Dos and Don’ts of Napping
The key to healthy napping is ensuring that you nap correctly. Part of that is knowing when it’s appropriate to take a nap.
For example, you may consider scheduling naps throughout the week if you’re experiencing new fatigue (and know the cause), are preparing for sleep loss before a night shift, or want to boost your energy levels throughout the day.
Here are a few tips for setting your naps up for success:
Keep Your Naps Short
The experts say that a nap should last at least 30 minutes, but no longer than 90 minutes.
Of course, the time you need to take for your nap depends entirely on the reason why you’re napping. The ideal time for a nap is 20 minutes, also referred to as a “power nap.” Power naps provide recovery benefits as well as energy-boosting benefits.
Anything longer can leave you with sleep inertia. However, if you’re actually recovering from an illness or injury, then the more rest, the better.
Take Your Naps Early
The best time to take a nap is during the early afternoon. Napping after 3 p.m. is a no-no since it can interfere with your nighttime sleep, causing a restless night that leaves you feeling fatigued the next day.
Create a Restful Environment
The whole point of taking a nap is to rest. Whether you need an energy boost or to combat burnout—you need the sleep.
That’s why it’s important to create a restful and stress-free environment. Wherever you decide to nap, make sure it’s a dark, quiet place with no distractions and a comfortable room temperature.
You also want to make sure you put your worries aside, as stress and overthinking can prevent you from falling asleep. If you can’t seem to turn your brain off, it’s a good idea to practice mindfulness through meditation just before you nap.
Practicing mindfulness can help clear your head and ease your stress, allowing you to relax and grab that afternoon nap.
Many people find napping during the day disruptive or simply non-beneficial—and that’s okay. It all comes down to listening to your body and giving it what it needs. Napping doesn’t have to be some big event, especially since the most beneficial naps are kept short and sweet.
So, take that afternoon nap and see how you feel afterwards. Sweet dreams!