It’s 2 p.m. and your energy is low. You don’t want to slam another cup of coffee, but you’re not sure if you’re going to make it to the 5 o’clock bell. Is it maybe time for a nap?
If you’re thinking about taking a quick afternoon snooze, you might be wondering one thing: Are naps good for you?
Let’s get into the benefits and drawbacks of naps and discuss how to get the best nap possible. This video was made in partnership with Casper, who provided financial support as well as the mattress and sheets for us to rest on!
The Benefits Of Naps
There are many upsides to taking a nap. While we know they can make us feel more rested, there are some other great benefits as well. For instance, research suggests that naps can:
- Improve your memory. One study found that subjects who took a 45-minute nap had an easier time remembering word pairings than subjects who had not taken a nap (1).
- Help with your mood. We’ve all felt grumpy because of a lack of sleep. Studies have shown that naps can decrease impulsiveness and lessen feelings of frustration (2).
- Make you more alert. A study involving NASA pilots found that the pilots were 54 percent more alert after taking a daily nap. Their performance also increased by 34 percent (3).
The Drawbacks Of Naps
There are many benefits to naps, but there are some downsides as well. Before adding naps to your routine, take the following into account:
- Naps can make it difficult to fall asleep at night. Especially if you struggle with insomnia, longer naps and napping too late in the day can impact your nighttime sleep.
- Long naps may provoke sleep inertia. This is the feeling of grogginess that comes after a long sleep. If you nap too long, you can enter a later stage of sleep. If this happens and you’re woken up in the middle of a deep sleep stage, you may feel more tired than when you went to sleep.
Are Naps Good For Your Heart?
Studies have shown that people who take short naps could actually decrease their risk of heart disease.
During one study, researchers focused on a cohort of 36,000 subjects for several years (4). They found that those subjects who napped occasionally had a 12 percent lower chance of dying from cardiovascular heart disease. What’s more, those who napped regularly decreased heart disease risk by 37 percent!
It’s important to note that these studies focused on short naps. Other research has actually found connections between long daytime naps and an increase in heart disease.
In one analysis of 21 studies, researchers compared data from over 307,000 subjects (5). Subjects who took naps longer than 40 minutes had an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, which includes health issues such as high cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure. These are all associated with heart disease.
Are Naps Good For Your Brain?
Naps have indeed been shown to help with brain function. Perception, memory, and motor skills have all been shown to improve after taking a short nap.
In a 2002 study, researchers found that subjects who took a midday nap were more perceptive during tests following the short rest (6). During another study, naps improved verbal memory and procedural motor skills more than caffeine or a placebo (7).
In a 2010 study, researchers tested how napping could help improve learning. Out of a group of 44 UC Berkeley students, those who napped during the day were able to learn more (8). The researchers hypothesized that naps could help clean out our short-term memory and allow us to store more new information.
This is a big thing to consider when you’re planning out that perfect nap. You want to make sure that you are staying in the correct sleep stages so you don’t wake up feeling groggy. To understand how this works, let’s look at the sleep stages one by one.
- Stage 1. This occurs when you’re first falling asleep. You are sleeping very lightly, and it is very easy to wake you up.
- Stage 2. You are sleeping a bit more deeply, but it is still easy to wake you up. This stage lasts until about 20 or 30 minutes into a period of sleep.
- Stages 3 and 4. At this point, you are sleeping deeply, and it will be hard to wake you up. This is restorative sleep where your body begins to heal and your immune system is strengthened. Stage 4 ends at around 90 minutes. If you waken up during Stage 3 or 4 sleep, you’re likely to feel groggy.
- REM Sleep. When you pass into REM Sleep, you are most likely to dream. Learning and memory solidify during REM Sleep.
How To Get The Best Nap Possible
Okay, it’s time for that nap. Now how do you make sure it is the best, most restorative nap possible? Follow these quick tips:
- Make sure your nap isn’t too long. Remember those sleep stages and that it’s not a great idea to nap long enough that you enter into Stage 3 or 4. If this happens, you can suffer from sleep inertia and wake up more tired than when you went to sleep. You want to shoot for the 10- to 30-minute window when it comes to enjoying a nap that won’t leave you feeling groggy.
- Aim to nap around 2 to 3 p.m. If you work a 9-to-5 job, this is a great time to catch a nap. Anything later than that and you could be interfering with your nighttime sleep. Just don’t sleep through that afternoon meeting!
- Adjust your nap time if you’re a shift worker. If you work overnight or another non-traditional schedule, you’ll probably need to change your nap time. For instance, if you start work at 2 p.m., that probably isn’t the best time to take a nap! Consult a nap wheel to find the best nap time for you.
- Sleep lying down. We’ve all caught a nap in a chair or a seat on public transportation. While this will do in a pinch, sitting up is really not the best position for a nap. It’s better to lie down, preferably on a comfortable mattress.
- Practice good sleep hygiene. Even if it’s just a nap, you want to practice basic sleep hygiene any time you sleep. Make sure you’re sleeping in a cool, quiet, and dark place. If that isn’t possible, earplugs and an eye mask may come in handy.
Best Places To Nap
If you are thinking about taking a nap, where is the best place to do it? As noted above, your nap space could make the difference between a good nap and a great one. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common places that you’re liable to catch some Zzzs.
- In a chair. If you’re at work and ready to take that 2 p.m. siesta, a chair might be your only option. However, as noted above, this is not the best position for napping. Studies have shown that, while you could get decent rest in a chair, you won’t be as alert afterward compared to if you’d slept lying down (9). You also risk developing neck or back pain after napping in an uncomfortable position.
- On a couch. This is a better option than a chair, but it is still not ideal. You still run the risk of neck strain or other body aches (depending on whether you’re able to stretch out on the couch and maintain proper spinal alignment). Personally speaking, as a very tall person, it’s pretty much impossible to find a couch to fit me!
- On a mattress. Napping on a mattress really is your best bet. I personally napped on the Casper mattress quite a few times and found it to be a great mattress for napping. The Casper features a zoned construction, which makes it a great fit for multiple sleeping positions. Even as a heavier person, I felt some nice pressure relief when I was on my side. On my back, I felt that firmer center region supporting my lumbar area.
Evening Naps Vs Afternoon Naps: Which Is Better?
As I noted above, when you nap can be as important as the duration of your nap. As a general rule, the best time to take a nap probably isn’t going to be in the evening. Napping too late in the day can negatively affect your sleep later that night. If you struggle with insomnia or other sleep conditions, an evening nap could exacerbate the issue.
However, this is not a hard and fast rule. For instance, if you’re preparing for a night shift or an overnight work schedule, an evening nap could be very important for maintaining alertness throughout the night.
That being said, for most 9-to-5ers, that 2 to 3 p.m. window is ideal for taking a nap.
Napping can offer a number of benefits, provided you do it right. Remember to keep the nap short, and don’t take the nap too late in the day if you’re hoping to sleep well that night. If you keep these and the other tips above in mind, you should be equipped to take great naps whenever you need an energy pick-me-up.
- Tucker, Matthew A., and William Fishbein. “Enhancement of Declarative Memory Performance Following a Daytime Nap Is Contingent on Strength of Initial Task Acquisition.” Sleep, vol. 31, no. 2, Feb. 2008, pp. 197–203.
- Goldschmied, Jennifer R., et al. “Napping to Modulate Frustration and Impulsivity: A Pilot Study.” Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 86, Nov. 2015, pp. 164–167.
- Rosekind, Mark R., et al. “Alertness Management: Strategic Naps in Operational Settings.” Journal of Sleep Research, vol. 4, Dec. 1995, pp. 62–63
- Naska, Androniki. “Siesta in Healthy Adults and Coronary Mortality in the General Population.” Archives of Internal Medicine, vol. 167, no. 3, 12 Feb. 2007, p. 296.
- Yamada, Tomohide, et al. “Daytime Napping, Daytime Sleepiness and the Risk of Metabolic Diseases: Dose-Response Meta-Analysis.” Endocrine Abstracts, 18 Oct. 2016
- Mednick, SC, et al. “The Restorative Effects of Naps on Perceptual Deterioration,” Nature Neuroscience, 5 July 2002
- Mednick, Sara C., et al. “Comparing the Benefits of Caffeine, Naps and Placebo on Verbal, Motor and Perceptual Memory.” Behavioural Brain Research, vol. 193, no. 1, Nov. 2008, pp. 79–86.
- Mander, Bryce A., et al. “Wake Deterioration and Sleep Restoration of Human Learning.” Current Biology, vol. 21, no. 5, Mar. 2011
- Zhao, Dayong, et al. “Effects of Physical Positions on Sleep Architectures and Post-Nap Functions among Habitual Nappers.” Biological Psychology, vol. 83, no. 3, Mar. 2010, pp. 207–213.
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