Sleep Myths Debunked: Is Napping Good for You?
Are Naps a Health Saver or Secret Killer?
Disclosure: I'm pro-nap.
No matter how much sleep I do (or don't get), how much I work out, or what my diet looks like, I can always go for an afternoon nap between 2-4 p.m.
“You really shouldn't be taking naps," my husband said to me one day, after noticing my work-from-home guilty pleasure. “Naps aren't really good for you."
“Naps are perfectly fine and healthy. Children take naps." I argued. Then I began googling and found a lot of conflicting information; enough evidence to substantially argue either for or against napping.
Is napping healthy?
The “Naps are Bad for You" Data
There is a body of research to suggest that taking naps are not only bad for you, but lethal. A 2014 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found a 32% spike in mortality for people who frequently napped for an hour or more.
There's also other data for why napping is bad for your health:
- Matthew Walker, sleep scientist and author of the book “Why We Sleep", states naps aren't conducive to good sleep hygiene because it relieves sleep pressure, and can make it difficult for individuals to fall asleep at night and stay asleep for a full night's rest.
- Overly long naps also disrupt your body's own circadian rhythm, meaning you'll feel hungry — and sleepy — at irregular intervals and likely experience grogginess through the rest of the day.
- People who nap are two-thirds more likely to die from respiratory disease. The underlying cause of this is that taking naps during the day can increase inflammation in the body.
- Depending upon the person, the strong desire to nap indicates underlying health issues or chronic issues with poor nightly rest.
Research: Naps are a Cure-all
I went straight to the source, The National Sleep Foundation, for data on the benefits of napping.
- In a famous NASA study, pilots and astronauts who took a short nap (40 minutes) during their shift increased alertness by 100% and overall performance by 34%.
- Research also suggests naps are completely natural for the human circadian rhythm, due to the dip in energy an individual experiences between 1 - 3 p.m. each day.
- Regular napping has been shown to decrease the risk of coronary disease by 37% (and even above 60% in working men.) This is linked to a good nap's ability to decrease stress, increase alertness, and avoiding burnout.
Is napping good for you? The Definitive Answer
Yes, naps are good for you, so long as they stay short.
While the actual length varies depending on which article you read (TIME.com suggests up to 90 minutes — one full REM cycle — is effective, while the National Sleep Foundation recommends no more than 30 minutes), most research suggests keeping naps between 20 and 30 minutes is best in order to experience optimum benefits.
Not surprisingly, much of our ability to “profit" from napping benefits is genetic. Some of us — an estimated 40% of the population — are natural born nappers, and others (like my husband) rarely experience the urge to nap at all.
In short, if you enjoy a good afternoon snooze, take one.
You'll not only be more alert and productive, but you'll also enter the club of genius nap-lovers such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, and Winston Churchill!