The Health Benefits of Napping

By:    Published: February 5, 2013

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To nap or not to nap? There have been many arguments about the importance of napping, with some experts saying that daily naps are healthy while others believe that they interfere with night time sleep. The overwhelming research indicates that napping is good for the body, provided it is done properly. Surprisingly, most people who nap aren't doing it right.

Types of Naps

There are three different types of naps, all with different scenarios which make them effective. They are:

  • Planned Napping: A planned nap most often occurs when someone takes a nap before they are really tired in an effort to keep from becoming tired later on, such as those who are preparing for a night out or working a late shift.
  • Habitual Napping: Habitual napping is often seen amongst children. When a person naps at roughly the same time each day, it's called habitual napping. Habitual napping can be beneficial to those who keep odd schedules, such as shift workers or those who might otherwise not get enough sleep at night. For more information, see Living with a Shift Work Sleep Disorder.
  • Emergency Napping: When people cannot continue with their activities because they are too tired and must sleep, it is called emergency napping. This is seen often in long distance drivers who need to nap to avoid falling asleep while driving and causing an accident.

Health Benefits of Taking a Nap

Sleep is essential for making sure that the body functions the way it should and multiple studies have shown that those who have trouble sleeping or who have a sleep disorder typically have other health problems as well, some of which are quite serious.

Related: 10 Negative Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Naps have always been the awkward cousin to night time sleep. But in 2009, a report from Harvard Medical School indicated appropriate daytime napping did not interfere with nighttime sleep at all, and that naps were, in fact, beneficial. The benefits of napping include:

  • Improved Alertness and Performance: According to studies done at NASA, a short nap can improve performance by 34 percent and alertness by 100 percent. This is significant when it comes to tasks such as driving vehicles, flying airplanes or operating machinery. The National Sleep Foundation found that the effects of a nap extended for several hours after the nap.
  • Relaxation: Naps are a small luxury that don't cost anything. It's a great way to de-stress, especially for those who work in stressful occupations.
  • Improved Mood: The truth is that people become short tempered when they are tired. Napping can help improve a person's mood during the day, especially if they are sleep deprived at night.

Napping can be particularly beneficial to those who do shift work. The body naturally wants to sleep at night, which can make it difficult for those who need to be awake at night to remain alert. According to a 2006 study conducted by the Sleep Medicine and Research Center affiliated with St. John's Mercy Medical Center and St. Luke's Hospital in Missouri, those who do shift work can benefit significantly from a combination of napping and consuming caffeine.

Related: 10 Possible Side Effects of Too Much Caffeine

Tips for Healthy Napping

Nearly every expert agrees that there is a right way and a wrong way to take a nap. Napping the right way can lead to increased alertness and an improvement in a person's overall feelings of well being. Napping the wrong way can leave a person with sleep inertia. Here is what the experts suggest:

  • Limit daytime naps to 30 minutes or less. Anything longer will cause a person to fall into a deeper sleep which can make waking difficult.
  • Don't nap in a bed. Opt instead for a couch or chair. Napping in bed will also encourage a deeper sleep, which could lead to oversleeping or sleep inertia.
  • Be sure the environment is conducive to napping. This includes a dark, quiet room and cool temperatures.
  • Plan your naps. Planning naps can actually improve the overall quality of sleep by helping people fall asleep and wake up faster.
  • Don't feel guilty. A person should never feel guilty about taking care of themselves. It doesn't matter what other people think. Naps make people more productive, happier and healthier. Instead of feeling guilty, rejoice in the knowledge that by napping your being smart and taking good care of yourself.

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