To Nap or Not to Nap... That is the Question

October 14, 2019

Taking a nap almost always seems like a good idea, right? Especially if you find yourself fatigued and dragging your feet, just dying for a little mid-afternoon reset to get through the day. But before you put your head down at the desk, get comfy on the sofa or close your eyes in a shaded parking spot in your car, first ask yourself if napping actually helps your body.

Is napping all it's cracked up to be? It’s widely accepted that babies and kids need a considerable amount of sleep time, which includes a daily nap or two, so why wouldn’t that universally apply to all adults? 

Well, according to the research, napping has both upsides and downsides. A recent study published in the journal Heart, for example, presented evidence that napping can decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. But there’s also evidence out there demonstrating some less desirable effects of napping. So, let’s look at both the pros and cons of napping.

Napping Pros

  • Heart Study on Napping: We’ve already mentioned this one above — according to a study in the Journal Heart, participants who napped once or twice per week had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. 
  • Reduces Stress: Sleep.org claims that regular, short naps may help reduce stress, which can in turn reduce your risk of heart disease and other health issues. If you are feeling tense, consider taking a short nap to reduce stress and wake up feeling more refreshed.
  • Recharge Your Battery: Naps can be especially helpful if you don’t sleep well, have little ones at home that wake you up in the middle of the night, or simply aren’t getting enough quality sleep. Naps can help boost alertness and help you feel energized. Sleep experts claim that a 20-minute nap is ideal for boosting attention, while a longer 90-minute nap allows for rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which may help support problem-solving.
  • Support a Better Mood: Have you ever been in a downright bad mood, taken a nap, and found that you felt ten times better afterward? This is because napping may help reduce irritability associated with not getting enough sleep. Think about it — when you get a full night’s rest, you feel better both mentally and physically. If you don’t sleep well, you may be cranky, and a nap may be able to help.
  • Napping May Reduce Your Need For Caffeine: So many of us are relying on stimulants like caffeine and energy drinks just to stay awake during the day. If you have time in your schedule to take a quick nap, it may reduce that need for that extra cup of coffee. If you can find that napping sweet spot, where your body responds by waking up feeling recharged, then go ahead and nap when you can. It may be the thing that helps you kick your caffeine habit.

The Flip Side

While taking a nap may seem like something we all could benefit from, there are a couple of cons to keep in mind.

  • Napping May Make You Feel Groggy: While Sleep.org says that 20-90 minutes of napping may help support mental alertness and problem-solving skills, it is also states that many it can make you groggy. The Mayo Clinic likewise describes sleep inertia, which is where you may feel groggy when you wake up from a nap. If this happens regularly, you may have to skip naps altogether, or adjust the length of your naps. Keeping it down to less than 30 minutes can help give you a boost without the grogginess.
  • Napping May Not Be Best for Those With Insomnia: If you happen to suffer from insomnia, The National Sleep Foundation says napping may not be for you, especially in the afternoon. If you have a hard time sleeping at night, even a short nap in the afternoon may make it even harder to sleep at night.
  • Not Everyone Has Time to Nap: Lastly, not everyone has time in their day to stop and take a snooze. If you work a 9-5 schedule, you almost certainly don’t have time to take a nap in the middle of your day. As much as many of us may want a midday or afternoon nap, it may not always be possible.

The Best Time to Nap

Sleep expert says that the optimal napping time frame is between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. since it’s after the lunch hour, and likely when your energy levels start to decline. Try to keep your naps short (around 20 minutes) and sleep with blackout curtains to shut out the light and help you fall asleep quickly. This will be key to getting the most out of your nap time.

What About Napping For Older Adults?

Is a daily nap a healthy habit for those around the age of 65 and older? According to Medical News Today, a study found that an afternoon nap of 1 hour is good for boosting cognitive function in older adults. 

Napping For Better Health

Regular naps may be a gamechanger for your overall health, including cognitive function and heart health. Naps can help ease stress, boost mood, and help you feel your best. But they don’t work for everyone. If you find that napping doesn’t throw off your night-time schedule, and you are still able to get a full night’s sleep, then consider adding naps where you can.

Better, yet focus on getting 7- 9 hours of quality sleep at night, and you may not need that afternoon rest!

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