Are Naps Good for You?
If you’ve ever woken up from a nap tired and groggy, you have probably wondered if napping really does any good for you. And even if you wake up from your naps refreshed and re-energized, you may also wonder if it is making your nighttime sleep less effective.
The answer to the question of whether you should nap is not as straightforward as you may think. First, it’s helpful to define what a nap is and take a look at some of the research behind napping.
What is a nap?
A nap is defined as sleeping lightly or briefly during the day. Generally, any amount of sleep between approximately 10 and 90 minutes would qualify as a nap. You will enter various stages of the sleep cycle depending on how long your nap lasts:
- A very short nap lasts around 5 to 10 minutes. In this length of time, you will remain in Stage 1 sleep.
- A “power nap” is when you nap for about 20 or 30 minutes. If your nap is in this range, you will enter Stage 2 sleep, which is characterized by a drop in body temperature and slowed heartbeat and breathing.
- After about 30 minutes, you enter Stage 3, or deep sleep. Heart rate and breathing gets even slower during this stage, and your muscles become very relaxed.
- At roughly 90 minutes, you enter into Stage 4, or REM sleep. Interestingly, breathing and heart rate increase during REM sleep. Most of your dreaming occurs during this stage. Your initial REM cycle lasts about 10 minutes, after which you will repeat Stages 1-4 again.1
What the research says
Some studies suggest that napping may be detrimental to our health. One study, for example, found a link between daytime sleeping and insomnia in older adults.2 Another study found that those who napped for an hour or more had a 32% increase in mortality risk.3
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that naps cause the insomnia or increased mortality risk. It could be, rather, that those who are older or have health issues are more prone to napping for a long period during the day.
On the other hand, napping has been shown to have a number of positive health benefits. For instance, one Greek study found a reduction of coronary heart disease in subjects who took 30-minute naps.4
Napping for 60 to 90 minutes was also found to improve memory retention and perceptual learning better than both caffeine and placebos.5 Plus, it can be used to increase total sleep in a 24-hour period, which can improve mood and performance.6
What’s the verdict?
Looking at the research and many expert opinions, we can see that naps can indeed be beneficial for most people. However, some people may benefit more from napping than others. There is such a thing as being a “good” napper. A person who is a good napper typically wakes up from a nap feeling refreshed, while a “bad” napper is more likely to feel tired and out of it after a nap.
In fact, Sara Mednick, author of the book Take a Nap! Change Your Life, says that up to 40% of the population needs a daily power nap to feel and perform at their best. She also points out that for these people, the need to nap may be genetic.7
Furthermore, the length of the nap may play a large role in how effective it is. For many, especially the 40% who need to nap, a 20- or 30-minute power nap leaves them feeling refreshed, while a nap that lasts longer than 30 minutes makes them feel extremely tired upon waking. This makes sense, as it is generally harder to wake up and get going after a deep sleep.
There are also those who may benefit from a longer nap. Achieving a deep REM-cycle sleep may be what a person needs to feel rejuvenated. A nap that is about 90 to 100 minutes allows you to go through an entire sleep cycle, which may be beneficial for some people as well.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is also some evidence that very short naps can do you some good as well. One study found that a 10-minute nap improved cognitive performance and alertness compared to a no-nap control group.8
Getting the most out of your naps
The general recommendation for napping is to keep it to 20 or 30 minutes. This allows you to enter into Stage 2 sleep and avoid Stage 3, which can make you more tired. If you do have 90 minutes available to nap, give it a try and see how you feel. If you are more refreshed after a 90-minute, full-REM-cycle nap compared to a 20-minute snooze, chances are this is just what your body needs.
A nap may also help you compensate for a poor night of sleep. You may have only been able to get 5 or 6 hours of sleep. In this case, a 90-minute nap can give you the additional REM cycle you need. If you aren’t tired during the day and you got enough sleep, however, there is really no need to take a nap during the day.
It’s also important to remember that napping too late in the afternoon can wreak havoc on your nighttime sleep. As such, try to nap before 3 p.m. Many people feel tired after lunch, so this is the perfect time to get some quick shuteye.
If you are an insomniac, you may want to avoid napping altogether. Some research suggests that this will help you sleep better at night.9 If you suffer from insomnia and find that you absolutely must take a nap during the day, try to keep it to about 10 or 20 minutes to avoid worsening nighttime sleep problems as much as possible.
The quality of your nap can also be an important factor in how refreshed you feel afterwards. So to get the most out of your naps and to nap more easily, make sure to follow these tips:
- Decide how long you will nap and set an alarm
- Nap in a private, quiet location.
- Choose a cool location or lower the temperature
- Change into more comfortable clothes if you can
- Nap on a bed, couch, or other soft surface
- Use a pillow and a blanket
- Wake up slowly and don’t rush to get back to work
Lastly, it’s important to remember that excessive daytime sleepiness may be the result of a health problem. Consult with your practitioner if you are constantly sleepy and napping doesn’t seem to help.
1. “What Are REM and Non-REM Sleep?” WebMD LLC. Webmd.com.
2. Ancoli-Israel, S., & J.L. Martin. “Insomnia and Daytime Napping in Older Adults.” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine 2, no. 3 (2006): 333-342.
3. Leng, Y., N. Wainwright, et al. “Daytime Napping and the Risk of All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality: A 13-Year Follow-up of a British Population.” American Journal of Epidemiology 179, no. 9 (2014): 1115-1124.
4. Naska, A., E. Oikonomou, et al. “Siesta in healthy adults and coronary mortality in the general population.” Archives of Internal Medicine 167, no. 3 (2007): 296-301.
5. Mednick, S.C., D.J. Cai, et al. “Comparing the benefits of caffeine, naps and placebo on verbal, motor and perceptual memory.” Behavioural Brain Research 193, no. 1 (2008): 79-86.
6. Sadeghniiat-Haghighi, K., & Z. Yazdi. “Fatigue management in the workplace.” Industrial Psychiatry Journal 24, no. 1 (2015): 12-17.
7. Mednick, Sara C. “Take a Nap! Change Your Life.” (New York, NY: Workman, 2006).
8. Tietzel, A.J., & L.C. Lack. “The recuperative value of brief and ultra-brief naps on alertness and cognitive performance.” Journal of Sleep Research 11, no. 3 (2002): 213-218.
9. Doghramji, Karl. “Napping and Insomnia.” WebMD LLC. Medscape.org.