The Truth About Napping: How Much is Too Little or Too Much?
Who doesn’t look forward to a relaxing siesta on a Sunday afternoon after a long, hard work week? But while napping might feel nice for some people, do adults need to rest during the day? Are there physical or cognitive benefits or potential harm of napping on our health and performance, and does it affect our well-being? Brooke Aggarwal, EdD, MS, FAHA, an assistant professor of medical sciences (in medicine) at CUIMC, explains how napping affects us and shares tips on making it a refreshing part of your day.
The Science of Napping
Just like life, sleep happens in phases. When we sleep at night, we typically go through different stages, including light sleep, slow-wave sleep (SWS), and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. These stages have been shown to play different roles in enhancing our memory, ability to learn and think, and healing.
When we nap for less than 30 minutes, we usually do not enter the deepest sleep stage and instead stay in the lighter stages of sleep. These short naps or “power naps” (between 10 to 30 minutes) have been shown to improve memory retention and recall and boost alertness, attention, and performance on thinking tasks. They can also counteract the effects of sleep deprivation and improve reaction times, decision-making, and problem-solving skills.
The Benefits of Napping
Napping has some benefits, such as increasing alertness, memory, and problem-solving abilities, but there are some additional benefits as well, which include:
- Stress reduction and mood enhancement: Napping can help reduce stress, promote relaxation, and improve overall mood and well-being.
- Physical rejuvenation and health benefits: A relaxing nap can reduce physical fatigue, making you feel more energetic. It may also help reduce inflammation, boost your immune system, and lower blood pressure, which is good for your heart.
Be Aware of the Drawbacks
However, you may want to avoid napping so that it doesn’t keep you up all night. Napping is not suitable for you if it causes:
- Sleep disruption: Napping for too long or too close to bedtime can disrupt nighttime sleep, making it harder to fall or stay asleep at night.
- Sleep inertia: Longer naps can put you into a deeper sleep, sometimes resulting in a state of temporary disorientation upon waking up, or “sleep inertia,” leaving you feeling groggy.
- Reduced natural sleep drive: Regularly napping excessively can lead to difficulty maintaining a regular sleep schedule due to a reduction in the body’s drive for sleep.
- Masking potential underlying sleep disorders: Excessive daytime sleepiness or the need for frequent and prolonged naps can be a symptom of certain sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea and insomnia, and it may be necessary to consult a sleep professional if this is a concern. A strong urge to nap every day could also be a sign that you aren’t getting enough sleep at night; aim for 7-8 hours of good quality sleep per night.
The Way to “Power Nap”
So, what is the most beneficial way to nap? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Duration: Keep your nap short, about 10 to 30 minutes, to avoid feeling groggy or disoriented.
- Timing: Napping too late in the day or close to your regular bedtime can interfere with your nighttime sleep. It is better to nap earlier, preferably in the early afternoon.
- Individual sleep patterns: Some may find that napping negatively affects their ability to fall or stay asleep at night. If you have insomnia or other sleep disorders, napping may not be suitable for you.
- Work and daily schedule: Only some have the flexibility to incorporate naps into their daily routine due to work commitments or other responsibilities before deciding to include napping.
Napping may not be just for babies and kids anymore, but for grown-ups, a little power napping (< 30 minutes) might be the thing that keeps us feeling refreshed, alert, and even more energetic.
Dr. Brooke Aggarwal is an Assistant Professor of Medical Sciences in the Division of Cardiology, Department of Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. As a behavioral scientist and clinical health education specialist, her program of research focuses on the impact of behavioral and psychosocial factors on adherence to cardiovascular disease prevention guidelines, and the application of novel educational strategies to improve lifestyle behaviors.