If you stayed up late last night, couldn’t sleep well, or worked a long or irregular shift, you might be thinking about taking a nap. And that’s understandable. Naps can relieve tiredness and help you stay sharp throughout the day, whether or not you’ve had a good night’s sleep.
Experts recommend that most adults get seven to nine hours of sleep a day. Getting less than the recommended amount creates a sleep debt that can build up over days. To pay off your sleep debt, you need to sleep.
Although naps can’t replace quality nighttime sleep, they can help you catch up on sleep, combat daytime fatigue, increase alertness, and offer other benefits as well.
Top 5 Tips for the Best Nap
- 1 Avoid napping after 3 p.m.
- 2 Limit your nap to 30 minutes or less.
- 3 Try to block out daylight and noise as much as you can.
- 4 If you nap regularly, try to nap at the same time each day.
- 5 Try having caffeine right before a nap so that the effects kick in when you wake up.
What Are the Benefits of Napping?
A sizable body of evidence shows that napping can provide numerous physical and mental benefits, from relieving fatigue and stress to improving thinking and endurance.
Improved Daytime Sleepiness
When poor sleep leaves you feeling tired the next day, taking a mid-afternoon nap can perk you up. Whether you lose sleep regularly or choose to stay up late on the weekends, research shows that a nap boosts alertness and helps you feel less tired.
Napping does not just help sleep-deprived people feel more alert. Many people who regularly get enough sleep still feel tired in the early afternoon. Even a brief nap, as little as 15 minutes, can be enough to keep drowsiness at bay until bedtime.
Enhanced Physical Performance
People who are physically active may find that taking a nap can improve their energy, strength, and stamina, among other benefits.
For athletes who frequently experience sleep interruptions, napping offers a safe way to offset the effects of sleep loss. Research shows that a 90-minute daytime nap for sleep-deprived athletes boosts mental and physical performance. Athletes who nap also demonstrate better reaction times and improved attention.
Relief for Shift Workers
Shift workers stay awake to work long or irregular hours, often late at night. These schedules can throw off their body clocks, causing them to feel tired at work.
Shift workers can benefit from both long and short naps. Taking a long nap before work allows night shift workers to reach deep sleep stages, keeping them more awake throughout their shifts. If it’s permitted, taking a short nap during working hours can help a night worker stay alert for the rest of their shift.
Improved Thinking and Mood
Sleep loss causes brain fog and impairs cognitive function. Insufficient sleep adversely affects attention, decision-making, learning, reasoning, and memory.
Afternoon naps can help to lessen these effects. Research shows that naps improve how the brain learns, forms memories, and processes emotions.
Although research shows these cognitive benefits among young, healthy people, some studies show a correlation between regular napping and negative results, particularly among older people.
Studies show that naps that are less than 30 minutes long may reduce stress on the heart and may lower the risk of heart disease. Other studies have shown that healthy people who take naps are less likely to die of heart-related conditions.
Other investigations, however, have conflicted with these findings, showing an increased risk of cardiovascular problems associated with both short and long napping. Further research is needed to fully understand how napping may affect heart health.
Many adults feel stressed when they don’t get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation activates the body’s stress response, releasing stress hormones. In turn, unrelieved stress can make it harder to get to sleep at night.
Napping can help reduce stress and regulate stress hormones, such as cortisol. Naps also allow people to temporarily get away from stressful situations and ease the mounting pressure for sleep that builds up during the day.
Strengthened Immune System
Sleep plays a vital role in the body’s immune system. Not getting enough sleep can make the cells of the immune system less active and increase the risk for inflammation and infection.
However, taking naps can help the body restore its natural defenses. Short naps have been shown to aid the body in recovery after a night of sleep loss and improve immune system function.
What Are the Cons of Naps?
Although napping offers numerous benefits, it can also have its drawbacks.
- Sleep inertia: If you’ve ever woken up from a nap and felt tired and groggy, you have experienced sleep inertia. Sleep inertia occurs when you sleep long enough to enter slow-wave sleep, also called deep sleep.
- Nighttime sleep difficulties: Napping for too long or too late in the day decreases sleep pressure, or the need for sleep that builds up during the day. This can make it harder to fall asleep at night.
- Health problems: Older adults who frequently take naps that are longer than 90 minutes may have a greater risk of high blood pressure, heart ailments, diabetes, and cognitive decline.
Best Ways to Take a Nap
To make sure your naps give you the greatest benefit they can, it can help to keep in mind how long your naps last and what time of day you take them. You may also wish to experiment with different types of naps, such as a caffeine nap.
Set an Alarm
Napping for the right amount of time can help ensure that you boost your alertness without feeling too groggy.
Taking a short nap can help you avoid sleep inertia. If you set an alarm to go off 15 to 30 minutes after you fall asleep, you are more likely to wake up feeling alert.
Although long naps may cause you to wake up feeling disoriented, they may offer more lasting benefits once the effects of sleep inertia wear off. However, long naps reduce the need for sleep, which can make it harder to fall asleep at night.
If you take a long nap, make sure you give yourself some time for the drowsiness to wear off before carrying out important duties.
Choose the Right Time to Nap
Because of the sleep-wake cycle of the body, people with a daytime schedule often become tired at about 2 p.m. This makes the early afternoon a good choice for nap time. Taking a nap before 3 p.m. can relieve built-up sleepiness and sharpen thinking, especially for younger people in good health.
Many experts agree that napping after 3 p.m. can cause problems with falling asleep at bedtime. Shift workers, however, may consider napping anytime they feel fatigued.
Try a Caffeine Nap
A caffeine nap consists of consuming a serving of caffeine and then taking a short nap. Caffeine naps, commonly referred to as coffee naps, help reduce the effects of sleep inertia, like grogginess and a low mood.
Caffeine takes about 30 minutes to kick in fully. This means that, when you wake up from your short nap, you’ll experience alertness from both the nap and the caffeine.
However, not everyone tolerates caffeine, and too much caffeine can cause unpleasant side effects or disrupt nighttime sleep. Talk with your health care provider if you have questions about caffeine consumption.Shop the Best Mattresses of 2023
When to Consider a Nap
Although napping doesn’t replace a quality nighttime sleep routine, it does help alleviate the effects of sleep loss, and taking naps temporarily improves alertness.
If you feel stressed, sick, foggy-headed, you work late shifts, or you just didn’t sleep well the previous night, you might benefit from a midday nap. Also, if you’re an athlete or are otherwise physically active, you might consider using naps to boost your performance.
When to See a Doctor
Napping can be a temporary solution to daytime fatigue and can increase alertness in the short term. Even so, naps are not an adequate substitute for quality nighttime sleep. In some cases, regular napping may be a symptom of a sleep disorder or medical condition.
Talk to your doctor if you regularly have trouble sleeping or if you get a full night of sleep every night but still wake up feeling tired.