Written by: Juliann Scholl
Updated March 30, 2021
While most adults do not require naps, many look forward to or rely on these brief moments of slumber. Healthy napping can have positive effects on physical and mental well-being. You can maximize these benefits by knowing how and when to nap.
What Are the Benefits of Napping?
Napping has several health benefits, such as strengthening the immune system (1), reducing cardiovascular disease risk (2), enhancing psychomotor skills (3) and boosting work performance (4). Napping also provides positive mental effects like reducing stress, decreasing the risk of cognitive dysfunction (5), and increasing memory retention (6). Among young adults, napping is especially helpful in preserving episodic memories (7), which is the ability to recall past events.
Scheduling daily naps can also help reduce symptoms in some people who suffer from hypersomnia, insomnia, and other sleep disorders (8).
What Harm Can a Nap Do?
Taking long, frequent naps can sometimes signal an underlying medical issue, such as a sleep disorder, mental health concern, cardiovascular condition, or diabetes. Long naps may also contribute to diminished productivity (9) and are correlated with higher mortality among older adults.
A common adverse outcome of excessive napping is sleep inertia (10), which is reduced alertness and weakened cognitive functioning after waking up. Sleep inertia can contribute to human error and diminished work performance.
Types of Napping
Prophylactic napping can be an effective practice for people who work long shifts, night shifts, and others who anticipate a period of sleep deprivation. Prophylactic napping involves taking a nap prior to a night of sleep loss in order to reduce fatigue while awake. Taking a 10 minute nap (11) during a night shift has been shown to help maintain performance while minimizing sleep inertia.
Some people rely on restorative or replacement napping (12) to make up for sleep loss due to poor sleep. Sometimes individuals can make up for a lost night by sleeping longer the next day. However, restorative sleep becomes less useful when a person has a string of sleep-deprived nights. Missing just one hour of sleep can require many more nights (13) of restorative sleep.
People with sleep disorders or chronic conditions can include regular napping as part of their treatment. For example, patients with narcolepsy may nap to alleviate daytime sleepiness.
People who enjoy napping sometimes make it a habit. This is sometimes referred to as appetitive napping. People who take appetitive naps have been shown to experience less sleep inertia after short naps.
How to Nap Correctly
Most naps lasting less than 30 minutes can provide physical and cognitive benefits. Limiting nap length can prevent a person from entering deeper sleep phases, which can be more difficult to wake up from. Setting an alarm can help prevent oversleeping.
In addition to duration, regularity and timing are essential to healthy napping. People who want to incorporate napping into their routine might try to schedule it at about the same time each day. People who work traditional day shifts should try to avoid napping past 3 p.m. (14). Night shift workers can benefit from napping early in the morning (15), in the afternoon, or in the middle of the night.
Make sure your sleeping environment is conducive to restful napping. A quiet, cool, and comfortable setting (16) may help you relax and fall asleep more quickly. If your employer allows daytime napping, bring something from home to make you more comfortable, such as a favorite pillow, sleeping mat, earplugs, or an eye mask.
Napping can be a beneficial habit and enhance the quality of nighttime sleep. Finding the right time and method for napping can involve trial and error. However, with some experimentation, you can make napping work to your advantage.
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