Dogs, cats, and babies do it regularly – take naps. As adults, we are supposed to be beyond needing a midday slumber time. In fact, it’s common to view others who habitually take naps as a sign of weakness or being unmotivated. Yet, there’s not one of us who hasn’t experienced natural drowsiness sometime in the afternoon.
Whether you almost never nap or you make it a daily habit, medical research sides with napping as a means of positively influencing your long-term health and well-being. Call them ‘power naps,’ ‘catnaps,’ or just the need for much-needed shut-eye, no one who naps should feel self-conscious about a necessary and beneficial means of beating daytime grogginess.
To understand why naps are beneficial, it’s important to know how your health will flourish with naps. Regular napping may result in the following:
- Provides a memory and learning boost
- Lowers blood pressure
- Results in relaxation
- Reduces fatigue
- Increases alertness
- Improves mood and increases feelings of well-being
- Enhances creativity and boosts productivity
- Relieves stress
- Strengthens the immune system
- Reduces risk of heart disease
- Reduces the risk of prostate problems
How long should you nap?
Most sleep experts recommend an ideal nap of 10 to 20 minutes. While it’s tempting to sleep longer than 20 minutes, studies have shown that long naps can lead to sleep inertia. Sleep inertia is when you wake up from a nap feeling groggy and disoriented that’s hard to snap out of. This may throw you off your regular daytime routine.
Another possible downside of long naps is interfering with nighttime sleep problems. If you are someone who regularly experiences insomnia or poor sleep quality during the night, taking a long daytime nap might make it harder to fall asleep at night.
There are two ways to combat this: either keep naps brief (less than 20 minutes) or replace them with exercise to help improve your odds of sleeping soundly at night.
Should everyone take naps?
Surprisingly, not everyone necessarily needs naps. But even for the ‘never-nappers,’ taking a brief amount of time to rest and relax is far better than any afternoon double-espresso or a shot of Red Bull. The excessive caffeine and other stimulants found in these products are not nearly as effective at rejuvenating the mind and body as simply falling asleep for a short time.
People past the age of 60 may want to consider working in a nap each afternoon. As you get older, you’ll tend to have less deep (slow-wave) sleep and more rapid sleep cycles. This means you wake up more frequently during the night resulting in about a two-hour sleep deprivation than when you were younger. Most healthy adults need at least seven-and-a-half to eight hours of sleep each night to function best.
If you currently do not or hardly ever nap, you might consider making time for naps if you:
- Experience new fatigue or unexpected sleepiness
- Have long work hours resulting in sleep loss
What’s the right way to take a nap?
To get the most out of a power snooze, follow these quick tips:
- Be consistent – Take a nap on a regular basis. The optimal period of the day when it is recommended to take a nap is between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
- Take naps in the early afternoon – Napping after 3 p.m. can have negative effects on your nighttime sleep. However, take into account your current sleep schedule, your age, medications, all of which can determine the best time for you to take a nap.
- Make it quick – Set your cell phone alarm for 20 minutes or less if you don’t want to wake up dizzy and confused.
- Go dark – Nap in a dark room or wear an eye mask to simulate the darkness. Blocking out light helps you fall asleep faster, in about 7 minutes.
- Sleep in a quiet room – You will fall asleep faster if you have fewer distractions. Make sure whether it’s a bed, couch, or the floor you nap on along with the room temperature is comfortable and pleasant to induce sleep.
- Stay warm – Stash a blanket nearby to put over you because your body temperature drops while out sleep.