There’s a knack to napping, if you want your siesta to leave you feeling refreshed, and not groggy. Research suggests that naps can have benefits or drawbacks, depending on their timing and duration, and the age and health status of the person who’s doing the daytime snoozing.
“Napping adds to your quota of sleep,” says Joyce Walsleben, associate professor of medicine at the New York University School of Medicine and author of “A Woman’s Guide to Sleep.” In general, that’s a good thing because most people “never seem to get enough sleep,” she tells Newsmax Health.
In other words, naps can make a dent in the sleep deficit many of us have. And a short daytime sleep can serve as a much-needed pick-me-up in the middle of the afternoon, helping you function at a higher level.
Naps can “revive your senses and increase your sharpness in decision making and reaction time,” says Walsleben.
Researchers at Stony Brook University in New York found that medical residents who napped for up to 20 minutes during their shifts experienced improved cognitive functioning and alertness compared to their non-napping counterparts. Other studies have found that napping can improve learning, problem-solving abilities, memory processing, and recall.
What’s more, napping can improve your mood. A 2012 study from Germany found that when people with major depression took an afternoon nap, their feelings well-being increased afterward.
But the benefits of napping stem primarily from shorter naps of 30 minutes or less. If you keep a nap on the brief side, you’re less likely to fall into deeper sleep or dream (REM) sleep, given that full sleep cycles occur every 90 minutes.
By not slipping into deeper stages of sleep, you improve your chances of avoiding grogginess, lethargy, and sleep inertia – the “inferior performance of tasks and/or disorientation that occurs immediately upon awakening from [deep] sleep,” explains Clete Kushida, M.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford University Medical Center and medical director of the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center.
It’s important to control the duration of your naps by setting an alarm. The timing of your naps counts, too.
“For a usual sleep schedule of 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., the best nap time would be early afternoon around 2 p.m.,” Walsleben says. You can adjust the timing slightly upward or downward, depending on your personal nighttime sleep schedule, but generally between the hours of 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. are best.
Otherwise, napping too late in the day could disrupt your natural sleep-wake cycle (your body’s circadian rhythm), making it harder for you to fall asleep or stay asleep during the night, when you want good quality slumber.
Where you choose to nap is up to you. It can be on your bed, a couch, or even at your desk if your employer is OK with that. But comfort is key so that you don’t wake up with a stiff neck or a sore back.
Be aware, however, that there is a risk of overdoing it with naps. If your daytime snoozing begins to interfere with your nighttime slumber, that’s a sign that you’re napping too often or too long. And if you find that you need to take frequent, oddly timed naps even though you’re letting yourself have plenty of time to sleep at night, talk to your doctor.
“It could mean you have a sleep, medical, or psychiatric problem that is interfering with the quality of your sleep [at night],” Dr. Kushida says.
Naps should be a supplement to – not a substitute for – good-quality sleep at night.
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