The Health Benefits of Napping
Medically Reviewed by Madeline Hubbard, RN, BSN
Maintaining an adequate sleep routine is an important part of your overall physical and emotional health. However, there are various factors that can disrupt the amount of rest you’re able to get during typical nighttime sleep hours. Sleeping for short periods of time, typically during daylight hours, is called napping, and it’s an activity that one in three adults in the United States reports engaging in regularly.
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 believing that they interfere with nighttime sleep. Research results indicate that napping is good for the body — provided you do it properly. Read on to learn about healthful and effective approaches to napping, along with its many benefits.
Types of Naps
There are many different types of naps. They vary based on the underlying need and the intention of the nap:
- Recovery napping refers to daytime sleeping that’s meant to make up for previously lost or interrupted sleep. This might take place after you stayed up later than usual or had difficulty sleeping the night before.
- Prophylactic napping is used to bank sleep before a known need to stay awake for a long period, such as prior to a night shift or a long drive.
- Appetitive napping is done simply for enjoyment, rest or relaxation, and it might take place in a vacation hammock or a particularly cozy chair in the living room.
- Fulfillment napping is typically scheduled daily and is intended to supplement nighttime sleeping. This habitual type of nap occurs often in children and in older adults who find that they need added rest time during the day.
- Essential napping might occur during an illness or growth spurt when a person’s body requires extra sleep.
What Are the Health Benefits of Taking a Nap?
Sleep is essential for ensuring your body functions the way it should, and adults are recommended to get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. Various studies have shown that those who have trouble sleeping or who have a sleep disorder typically have an increased risk of other health problems as well, including heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Napping is one way to increase the amount of sleep you’re getting, and it can be beneficial in the following ways:
- Improved Alertness and Performance: One 2020 study showed that activation of the parasympathetic nervous system during naps can improve executive functioning of the brain, which is involved in decision-making and focus.
- Enhanced Memory: Naps have been shown to correlate with lasting improvements in working memory and recall of information learned prior to napping.
- Relaxation: Naps are small luxuries that don't cost anything. They can be a great way to rest and de-stress, especially if you work in a stressful occupation.
- Improved Mood: People often become short-tempered when they’re tired. Napping can help improve your mood during the day, especially if you find you’re sleep deprived at night.
- Avoidance of Caffeine: Many people reach for a coffee or another caffeinated beverage when experiencing midday drowsiness. Napping instead avoids the stress that caffeine can put on your heart and kidneys.
- Reduced Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: In 2019, a large-scale study showed that the participants who napped once or twice per week had a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Tips for Healthy Napping
Sleep experts agree that there’s a right way and a wrong way to take a nap. Napping the right way can lead to increased alertness and an improvement in your overall feelings of well being. Napping the wrong way can instead leave you with sleep inertia, or feelings of grogginess that inhibit activity during the day. Below is a list of suggestions to keep in mind when napping:
- Plan your naps. Planning naps into your busy schedule can actually improve the overall quality of your sleep by helping you fall asleep and wake up faster.
- Choose the timing wisely. Aim to nap at the halfway point between waking and bedtime. Typically, napping after 3 p.m. can make falling asleep more challenging that night.
- Limit the duration. Set an alarm for 10–20 minutes. This amount of time usually allows you to progress through the stages of sleep that achieve rest, but anything longer will likely cause you to fall into a deeper sleep — which can lead to further drowsiness.
- Don't nap in bed. Opt instead for a couch or chair. Napping in bed may encourage a deeper sleep, which could lead to oversleeping or sleep inertia.
- Create an environment that’s conducive to sleep. A dark, quiet room and cool temperatures can help facilitate napping. Try your best to minimize distractions.
- Don't feel guilty. You should never feel guilty about taking care of yourself. Naps can make you more productive, happier and healthier. Instead of feeling guilty, rejoice in the knowledge that by napping you’re taking good care of your health.
For some, daytime napping can worsen insomnia symptoms. The need to nap due to chronic fatigue can also signal a mental health concern, a medication side effect or a serious health problem. It’s always important to talk with your healthcare provider if you’re finding yourself napping for long periods of the day, with or without difficulty sleeping at night.