The Benefits of Napping

Good for physical and mental health

A nap—a period of light or brief sleep during the day—can be a wonderful way to boost your energy and mental health, especially if you have sleep deprivation. A lot of people depend on naps to get through the day. In fact, on any given day, about a third of American adults take a nap.

On the other hand, naps may do harm by leaving you groggy or giving you insomnia that night. The key to a good nap is knowing when to indulge in one, when to avoid it, and how long to let yourself sleep.

Woman napping on bed
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Types of Naps

Sleep experts have defined several different kinds of naps, all of which can serve a specific function.

  • Recovery nap: Making up for sleep lost the night before to combat the effects of sleep deprivation
  • Prophylactic nap: Taken in anticipation of lost sleep, such as with shift work or travel, to prevent the effects of sleep deprivation
  • Essential nap: A physical requirement when you're sick or injured to give your body the energy to fight off pathogens and allow you to heal
  • Appetitive nap: Taken for enjoyment rather than fatigue or physical need
  • Fulfillment nap: In children, taken due to higher sleep needs during development

Mid-Afternoon Drowsiness

The strongest desire for daytime sleep in adults occurs in the mid-afternoon, typically between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Afternoon sleepiness may be due to the natural rise of a brain chemical called adenosine, which makes you feel sleepy and it at its lowest in the morning.

Benefits of Napping

Naps offer a lot of potential health and performance benefits beyond recovering from a poor night's sleep. According to research, they may:

  • Lower the risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Improve memory
  • Improve perceptual learning
  • Speed up reaction time
  • Improve logic and reasoning skills
  • Increase symbol recognition
  • Improve emotional regulation
  • Decrease frustration
  • Make you less impulsive

An afternoon nap may boost learning ability by about the same amount as a cup of coffee, while napping is superior to caffeine when it comes to some types of memory.

Disadvantages of Napping

Naps do have some potential disadvantages, though. The biggest ones have to do with sleep:

  • Disrupting nighttime sleep: If a nap is too long or too late in the day, you may not be able to get to sleep or stay asleep that night. It's not hard for this to become a self-perpetuating cycle.
  • Leaving you groggy: Especially with longer naps, there's a possibility that you'll wake up feeling foggy-brained—and maybe even just as tired as before—because you're waking up from a deeper phase of sleep.

Studies also suggest that naps are associated with numerous medical conditions and measures of poor health, including:

What's more, these associations become stronger as you age.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep each night, but surveys suggest that half of people get less than this amount.

The Nap Paradox

Given the many positive and negative associations with naps, it's hard to say whether they're good or bad for you overall. Researchers are working on clarifying this paradox and have several theories about why research appears to be so divided.

  • Existing studies may not be looking for negative effects or may not be large enough to detect them.
  • They often don't distinguish chronic napping (frequent over many months or years) from occasional napping or take into account other nap types, and the benefits and risks may be different.
  • Characteristics not related to sleep, such as age, could impact the influence of a nap.
  • It's possible that naps aren't harmful at all and that certain health conditions and aging make you more tired or disrupt your nighttime sleep and thus increase your need for naps.

Some experts consider the last explanation to be the most likely. Still, they say it's too early to make that assumption and therefore premature to recommend that everyone take naps.

Tips for a Good Nap

If you're going to nap, there are ways to get the most possible benefit:

  • Time it right: Experts say napping between about 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. (for someone on a typical schedule) takes the best advantage of your natural sleep-wake cycle. Later naps are more likely to impair nighttime sleep.
  • Keep it short: Naps of 30 to 45 minutes can generally give you the boost you need without leaving you groggy or interfering with your nighttime sleep.
  • Get comfy: If possible, try to nap in a comfortable, quiet place so you can maximize the benefits.

Napping With Sleep Disorders

You may need more naps if you have untreated sleep disorders like sleep apnea and narcolepsy.

Frequently Asked Questions

When do kids stop napping?

Most young children stop napping between age 3 to 5, though it may come earlier or later for some kids. Infants and toddlers are developing rapidly so they need significantly more sleep than adults. Scheduling naptimes into your child's day can help them meet that requirement.

What is a power nap?

A "power nap" is a quick nap, lasting just 15 to 30 minutes, that helps you get through the day. It's not a medically defined nap type; the term sprang up in popular culture when the benefits of adult napping started being recognized. Most power naps are most likely just short recovery naps.

A Word From Verywell

It's normal to need a nap now and then, even if you're relatively young and healthy. However, if you find yourself needing naps more and more, you may need to examine your sleep hygiene and schedule to see if you can spend more time in bed or improve your quality of sleep.

Being tired during the day when you've had plenty of sleep could also indicate a medical problem that needs to be treated. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about your daytime sleepiness, how it's affecting your life, and what seems to make it better or worse.

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