Are naps actually good for you? Here’s what sleep experts say.
Napping has its benefits, but sleep experts say naps aren't a good fit for everyone. Here's why.
Most people have a complicated relationship with naps throughout their life. As a kid, you try to avoid them at all costs; Once you hit adulthood, the idea of taking a nap can seem like heaven. But while naps can be tricky to fit into your life as an adult, plenty of people still make it happen. Pew Research Center finds that a third of adults manage to fit in a nap on a typical day.
Of course, there has been a lot of chatter about naps lately, including whether they're even good for you. But doctors say there are plenty of benefits to be had from taking a midday snooze — especially if you approach it right.
Here's the deal with naps, plus when you shouldn't (and shouldn't) try to fit one into your day.
No. 1: For most people, there's a big benefit to napping.
At a basic level, napping can help you get recharged for the rest of your day. "Napping can provide a bit of respite in the middle of the day, which is helpful to refresh physically and cognitively," Dr. Kelly Waters, a sleep medicine specialist and neurologist with Spectrum Health, tells Yahoo Life.
But a lot of the perks of napping are in-line with the benefits of getting enough sleep on a regular basis, sleep specialist Dr. W. Christopher Winter, author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It, tells Yahoo Life. "It's great if you can get seven to eight hours of sleep a night. But, if you can't, napping provides a good way to fill in those gaps," he says.
That means, if you do it right, napping can help you feel less sleepy, improve your learning capacity afterward, help you remember things better, and help you keep your emotions in check, Winter says.
No. 2: Napping can help support the healing process.
Taking a nap when you're sick is a sign that your immune system is doing its job, Waters says. "When you are sick, your immune cells release chemical messengers to direct the body's response and healing," she explains. "These messengers also make you sleepy."
Taking a nap can also allow your body's immune system to do what it needs to do to help you get better. "As the usual function of sleep is to repair and rejuvenate, it makes sense that when you're sick, sleeping helps to repair and heal," Waters says. Taking a nap (or naps) when you're sick is "especially helpful if your illness is interfering with your ability to get sleep at night," Winter says.
No. 3: There are some health risks linked with naps.
Not all napping is beneficial, however. Naps have been linked with several health issues in adults, including high blood pressure and stroke. One recent study of 358 ,451 people published in the journal Hypertension found that participants who usually napped during the day were 12% more likely to develop high blood pressure and were 24% more likely to have a stroke compared to people who didn't nap. And, if the person was under 60, napping on most days raised the risk of developing high blood pressure by 20% compared to never-nappers.
Longer naps, such as an hour or more at a time, have also been linked to a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease and depression.
But Winter says it's hard to tell if it's the napping itself that's leading to these health conditions or if regular naps are an indicator that someone has an underlying health issue. "Studies have difficulty controlling for those variables," he says.
Still, Winter says, there's what he calls a "sweet spot" of sleep. "There's a difference between being a parent of young children who is taking a nap because they only got four hours of sleep and taking a three-hour nap after getting eight hours the night before," he points out. "Research has shown that when individuals do not get enough sleep, it leads to illness, but when you sleep in excess of what you need, the same can be true."
No. 4: Certain people should avoid napping.
Experts say that naps can be helpful for a lot of people, but not everyone should try to conk out in the middle of the day. "Napping may not be useful if you do not feel refreshed [when you wake up], have difficulties sleeping at night or if you cannot keep a nap to a shorter time frame," Water says.
If you have insomnia, it's really best to avoid naps if you can, she says. "The brain tallies up a daily quota of sleep, and napping chips away at this quota," she says. "There are factors that build during wake time that trigger sleepiness. Napping cuts down on these, and the sleepy message is not as strong — so there is not as big of a push to get to sleep and stay asleep."
Winter acknowledges that it becomes "very attractive" to take a nap if you struggle with insomnia. But, he adds, "you need to be careful with napping after a difficult night, because it could perpetuate the problem."
No. 5: It could boost your brain as you get older.
Taking naps during the day may help your brain stay healthy as you get older, recent research finds. The study, which was published in the journal Sleep Health, analyzed DNA samples and brain scans from 35,080 people who ranged in age from 40 to 69.
The researchers discovered that the participants who were habitual nappers had larger total brain volume (which is linked with a lowered risk of developing dementia and a slew of other diseases) than those who didn't nap. That brain volume was equivalent to 2.5 to 6.5 years of aging, the researchers said.
“Our findings suggest that, for some people, short daytime naps may be a part of the puzzle that could help preserve the health of the brain as we get older,” senior author Victoria Garfield, a senior research fellow at University College London, said in a statement.
The researchers in this particular study didn't look at how long those naps were, but previous studies have found that naps that were 30 minutes or less had the best benefits for brain health.
No. 6: There's such a thing as too long of a nap.
Just like when you sleep at night, your body can move through different sleep stages while you nap. If you sleep for 30 minutes or more, your body can enter slow-wave sleep, which can make you feel drowsy afterward, Winter says. This is called "sleep inertia."
"If you lay down and take a two-hour nap, you may feel worse than you did before," Winter explains. "You start entering cycles of sleep that are difficult to wake up from."
That's why an ideal nap length is 15 to 30 minutes, Waters says. "You want your nap to just help you touch up on your sleep," Winter says.
Ready for a nap? Winter recommends finding a quiet space, taking off your shoes and getting comfortable. "If sleep happens, awesome," he says. "If not, at least you had some nice time to rest."