No one is surprised by the revelation that most adults don’t get enough sleep. Even when we know this is an issue, it can be really difficult to fix that problem. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Screen time right before bed, forgetting to turn the phone off so it buzzes once we lie down, working an odd shift, that sliver of sunlight gets in the room right on the eyes, noisy apartment neighbors, etc. There are many different reasons we get robbed of our sleep.
This can lead to tired days, being tempted by unhealthy sources of caffeine or the desire for nap time that none of us appreciated enough during the pre-school days!
Nothing beats a truly good night of sleep, and some even argue that napping doesn’t give most of its benefits unless you are already sleeping at least relatively well since naps aren’t a substitute for actual quality sleep time. How do naps relate to our sleep patterns and our overall health?
Why Naps Could Be Good For You
There are many potential benefits to napping. The Mayo Clinic mentions improved mood, alertness, and energy levels as just a few of the potential boosts a good nap can bring to your day!1Even beyond this, anyone who has ever been exhausted mid-day, taken a nap and woke refreshed after a good 30-minute snooze knows just how empowering that can be.
Naps can be a great way to overcome a bit of mid-day tiredness or get a battery recharge after a particularly fatiguing day (or series of days). In fact, this idea is catching on in many high-stress cultures such as Japan’s corporate world, where power naps are often not only acceptable but also seen as a normal or encouraged part of the day for many workers.
Napping can definitely improve short-term alertness and in some cases can help catch up on a little bit of the missed sleep you may have experienced at night.
These are all some very noticeable positive benefits that napping can bring to the table for all of us. But as with many things, there are two sides to the coin – so let’s check out the other potential side of the argument.
Why Naps Could Be Bad For You
While there are definitely great benefits, but the truth is that some studies indicate that it’s not always peaches and cream. There are times when taking naps, especially frequent napping, could actually be bad for you instead of good.
The first sign is that you tend to wake up from naps feeling worse instead of better. There are several individuals who often complain of headaches, feeling sluggish and sore, or just fatigued after a nap. The exhaustion may even be worse.2
If this is a common feeling for you, then chances are that you may not be pre-disposed to taking naps or benefiting from them as much as someone who is.
What Affects Whether Naps Are Good Or Bad?
There are many different factors that go into whether or not a nap is going to be good, not just for how you feel but also for your health in general.
The length of the nap matters. While there are clear benefits of a nap as long as 90 minutes for many people, beyond that, there’s a signal of something wrong whether health, sleep deprivation, or something else.
In fact, studies have shown that the length of a nap can actually make a big difference in what type of benefits (or side effects) you receive.3
10-20 Minutes: Best for a quick boost to your energy levels and for being more alert and usually come with little to no side effects.
30 Minutes: Give the same benefits but also may come with up to an hour of “sleep hangover” that includes grogginess and inertia, before the actual benefits become obvious.
60 Minutes: A deeper sleep great for remembering deep recall, facts, names, other important fact-specific details such as those – but almost certain to include sleep inertia.
90 Minutes: Great length for creativity, improving emotional energy, and re-charging from extended missed sleep. Usually dodges side effects because a full sleep cycle can occur in 90 minutes.
Genetics is also a big part of the equation. An estimated 40% of the population are natural nappers as claimed by Dr. Sara Mednick of the University of California, and those individuals do much better when they get their consistent short naps, versus when they don’t.4
Finally, if napping is frequent, sleeping multiple times throughout a day, despite also sleeping normally, this can be a sign of potential severe health problems. This isn’t necessarily caused by the naps, but the frequent fatigue and napping, as a result, is often a clear set of symptoms to a deeper issue.
So What’s the Verdict?
Right now, the studies seem to tell us what a lot of us already know: occasionally a quick nap can be perfect to hit the spot, but that’s not always the case. There are times when a good 30-minute nap recharges the batteries, while there are other times where the body just wants to go through the whole day. We’ve all been there and it’s always important to listen to the signals that our bodies give us!
When used correctly, a cat nap can be a powerful little way to get that extra little boost that all of us need from time to time.
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