Humans are part of a minority when it comes to sleeping. We are monophasic sleepers, which means we divide our days into two distinct periods: sleep and wakefulness. Over 85 percent of all mammals are polyphasic sleepers, which means they sleep for short periods throughout the day.
It’s not entirely clear whether we as humans are following the proper sleep schedule, however, as evidenced by young children and elderly people who nap often and the importance of napping in many cultures. Short naps can improve mood, alertness and performance.
Types of Napping
There are three different types of naps:
- Planned napping: Also called preparatory napping, this involves taking a nap before you’re actually sleepy. People sometimes use this when they know they’ll be up later than usual, or to ward off tiredness in advance.
- Emergency napping: When you are suddenly very tired, and simply cannot continue with your activity. This kind of nap can be used for drowsy driving or fatigue while using heavy machinery.
- Habitual napping: When a person takes a nap at the same time every day, such as young children who take a nap each afternoon around the same time.
Benefits of Napping
Napping can hold several specific benefits:
- They can help restore alertness, enhance performance and reduce mistakes. A NASA study on sleepy military pilots found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34 percent and alertness by 100 percent.
- Naps can increase alertness in the period directly after the nap and can extend alertness a few hours later in the day.
- Scheduled napping has been prescribed for people affected by narcolepsy, a condition involving excessive and involuntary sleepiness, paralysis, hallucinations and other symptoms.
- Naps show psychological benefits, including a good way to relax and get rejuvenated.
- They can improve mood.
- Naps lower the risk of driving-related accidents or impairment for people on shift work.
Possible Downsides of Napping
Naps aren’t always the best option for everybody, and certain people may find some downsides to them. Some have trouble sleeping during the day, and others have issues sleeping anywhere but their own bed. Other negative effects of naps for some people may include:
- Sleep inertia: A feeling of grogginess and disorientation that can come with awakening from a deep sleep. This state usually only lasts a short period, but it can be damaging to people who must perform immediately. Post-nap impairment is a more serious form of sleep inertia, and can last longer for people who are sleep deprived or nap for longer periods.
- Napping can be detrimental to other sleeping periods. A nap taken too long or too late in the day might affect the quality and length of sleep at night.
- A study indicated that napping is associated with increased risk of heart failure in people who are already at risk.
Here are a few general tips for napping:
- Keep naps short, aiming for 10 to 30 minutes. Longer naps bring higher likelihood of grogginess upon waking up.
- Nap in the midafternoon, often between 2 and 3 p.m. These are the times when people often experience post-lunch sleepiness or lower alertness levels. Naps taken at this time are also less likely to interfere with sleep at night. Individual factors will play a large role in nap timing, however.
- Create a restful environment, which for most people is a quiet, dark place with a comfortable temperature and limited distractions.
- Give yourself time to wake up before resuming activities, especially any that require sharp alertness.
If you’re wondering how naps might be affecting you or how they could help you, your doctor can offer additional recommendations.
Revere Health’s Orem Family Medicine offers compassionate, patient-centered family medicine providers who are trained in a broad range of disciplines including internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology and geriatrics.
“Napping.” National Sleep Foundation. https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/napping
“Napping: Do’s and don’ts for healthy adults.” The Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/napping/art-20048319?pg=1