Is Napping Bad for You?
We’ve all had naps at some point during our lives. It is not only children that are used to napping but amongst adults, it’s more common than one might think. But is napping worth it? There is no simple (nor unambiguous) answer, but depending on the situation and the timing, napping can be either beneficial or harmful.
The Benefits of Napping
Are you often yawning after lunchtime? In the afternoon, there is a natural dip in your alertness level, which might make you feel a bit drowsy. That delicious lunch you had that is now resting in your stomach certainly doesn’t make it easier to stay focused. A short power nap after lunch might help to beat the drowsiness and increase your concentration levels. However, the nap time can’t be too long. If you sleep for too long and drift to a deeper sleep stage, you might wake up groggy and even more tired. The recommended time for an optimal and refreshing nap is no more than 20 minutes. That is enough to decrease your sleep pressure levels and get you pumped up with energy, without making it too difficult to wake up afterward.
The Cons of Napping
You might be able to temporarily improve your productivity or working efficiency by napping, but it comes with a cost. Sleeping during the day decreases sleep pressure, which might end up mixing your day-night rhythm thoroughly. Long naps are especially troublesome and can seriously disrupt your sleep at night. Taking long naps on a daily basis can result in problems both in falling asleep in the evening and staying asleep for the whole night.
Is It Worth It to Take Naps?
The pros and cons of napping are highly individual, but for most healthy individuals, taking a maximum of 20 minutes nap once a day is probably quite okay. However, if you nap too late in the afternoon or the early evening, it will most likely be disrupting your nightly sleep. Unless you need to drive a car or conclude some other tasks that require a high level of concentration, it would be ill-advised to nap after the early afternoon.
The slight decrease in alertness in the early afternoon usually passes by on its own, even if you’re not compensating it with a nap or a cup of coffee. If you feel sleepy the whole afternoon, it is often a sign of sleep deprivation. In that case, napping is not the right solution for you. If you are trying to compensate for sleep deprivation with long naps during the day, it can create a vicious cycle of not getting enough sleep the next night (and so on). You will end up messing your day-night rhythm even more. If you suspect you are suffering from sleep deprivation, we strongly recommend getting on top of the reasons behind not getting enough sleep rather than trying to fix the issue with napping.
Example Habits to try
Hays, J. C., Blazer, D. G., & Foley, D. J. (1996). Risk of napping: Excessive daytime sleepiness and mortality in an older community population. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 44(6), 693–698.
Milner, C. E., & Cote, K. A. (2009). Benefits of napping in healthy adults: Impact of nap length, time of day, age, and experience with napping. Journal of Sleep Research, 18(2), 272–281.