Afternoon napping, prevalent throughout history and in many cultures, still remains a constant part of everyday life for many. An ever growing body of research is showing that naps can be good for our health. At the same time, we are learning more each day about the consequences of sleep deprivation, with more than seventy million Americans reporting sleep problems such as insomnia and restlessness. Dr. Nilong Vyas, M.D., founder and owner of Sleepless in NOLA, asserts, “The research is plentiful that sleep is crucial.” The business, stress, and strain from technology, that has become commonplace in American life, might bring pause in considering adding a nap to your daily routine.
According to Dr. Sara Mednick, a psychologist at the University of California, Riverside, “A nap–defined as daytime sleeping that lasts between 15 and 90 minutes– can improve brain functions ranging from memory to focus and creativity.” “For some people, naps can feel as restorative as a whole night of sleep,” she adds. Following a nap, one may experience a boost of late-afternoon energy, and sharper senses for safe driving and good decision-making.
The benefits of napping have also been linked to lower rates of cardiovascular disease and inflammation, and also lower stress levels. Professor Androniki Naska of the University of Athens Medical School in Greece claims that an afternoon nap “may act as a stress-releasing habit, and there is considerable evidence that stress has both short and long-term adverse effects on the incidence of and mortality from coronary heart disease.” Naps are one of the most powerful tools for self-care and act as a midday recharge for our hard-working brains and bodies. The benefits of napping have been proven through scientific research and have even shown that those who enjoy a midday siesta tend to live longer because of how these afternoon naps reduce stress levels and promote cardiovascular health.
When we think of someone stopping to take a break from work to snooze for 1-2 hours there is an assumption that person is unambitious or lazy. In reality this may not be the case. It’s becoming more and more common for people in the United States to experience sleep deprivation because our busy lifestyle prevents us from rest and truly restorative sleep we need.
Many consider a 20 minute nap ideal, but Dr. Kent Smith, president of the American Sleep and Breathing Academy and the founder of Sleep Dallas, says it, “depends on the reason for the nap, but fifteen to forty-five minutes is considered an optimal duration, as longer than that can put you into a REM cycle, making you feel groggy.” The real trick is to avoid deep sleep, which takes time. For this reason, shorter naps are optimal. In addition, early afternoon naps are preferable to prevent disruption of your normal sleep/wake cycle.
Although naps do not make up for a lack of quality nighttime sleep, a nap can help improve alertness, performance, health, and mood. If you don’t have the opportunity to incorporate an afternoon nap into your daily routine due to work restrictions, a deep and peaceful night of sleep is always the first best option.