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You're Tired: Should You Really Take a Nap?

Some people love naps and curl up on the sofa just about every chance they get. For others, an afternoon nap can make it difficult to fall asleep at night. So what's the verdict? Are naps good for your health, or a detriment to your regular sleep patterns? Here's what sleep experts have to say about the power of naps.

Photo of a woman lounging with her hands behind her head and her eyes closed.

Sleep Deprivation Is a Serious Problem

First, it’s important to address the real problem of sleep deprivation. Are you tired all the time? You’re definitely not the only one. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 3 Americans are sleep deprived. The CDC defines healthy sleep as seven or more hours of sleep each during every 24-hour period. If you’re getting less than this, you’re not sleeping enough.  

There are a few reasons for the country’s chronic sleep deprivation. Shift work, televisions and smartphones all contribute to problems with sleep. Some people also deal with insomnia that prevents them from getting adequate rest at night.

If you don’t get enough sleep during the day, napping could help you catch up on some important Zs.

4 Benefits of Napping

Are naps good for you? The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) states that naps can offer several benefits, including:

  • Reduced Accidents - As NPR reports, a study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says that motorists who sleep just five or six hours within a 24-hour period are two times as likely to get into a car accident compared to well-rested drivers.
    Other reports state that 20 percent of fatal car accidents are caused by drowsy drivers. If you’re not getting enough sleep, you could endanger yourself and others on the road. Naps may be a good way to catch up on lost sleep.  
  • More Alertness - Naps can also make you more alert and focused. However, the NSF recommends power naps that last about 20 minutes. If you sleep longer than that, you could interfere with your body’s circadian rhythm, which might make it more difficult to fall asleep at night.
  • Added Relaxation - A midday nap can do wonders for your physical and mental well-being. Many people experience an afternoon slump, during which they feel drowsy and run-down. As Elizabeth Scott of Verywell Mind notes, a nap can help you feel more relaxed and less stressed.  
  • Reduced Narcolepsy Symptoms - Affecting 1 in every 2,000 people in the United States, narcolepsy is more common than you might think. Symptoms can include excessive daytime drowsiness, sleep paralysis, hallucinations and disrupted sleep at night.
    According to researchers at Harvard, regular daytime naps can help ease the symptoms of narcolepsy. If you have narcolepsy, researchers recommend sticking to naps that are 15 to 20 minutes in duration at a time of day when it’s most difficult to stay awake. For many people, this falls between two and three in the afternoon.

Naps can be a great way to get the sleep you need, but they aren’t for everyone. Next, we’ll cover the possible disadvantages of napping.

Photo of a young couple napping on the couch.

Potential Downsides of Napping

If you’ve ever wondered if naps are good or bad for you, the answer really depends on you, your habits and your internal clock. According to the experts at the Mayo Clinic, naps don’t always affect everyone the same way. Possible drawbacks include:

  • Sleep Inertia - Sleep inertia is a groggy or disoriented feeling upon waking. If you lie down for a short time during the day, you might find it difficult to spring back into action when it’s time to get up.
    For some people, this groggy feeling is so difficult to shake that they struggle to resume normal daily activities. If naps affect you this way, napping might not be beneficial for you.  
  • Sleep Problems at Night - Napping can be good for you, but it can also interfere with your ability to sleep at night. If you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep after an afternoon nap, you might be the type of person who doesn’t derive much benefit from napping.
  • Potential Health Problems - The NSF also states that “one study has indicated that napping is associated with increased risk of heart failure in people already at risk.” If you have a heart condition, it’s important to discuss it with your doctor.  

To get the most out of naps, experts say to keep them relatively short. It’s also important to have a good sleep environment if you decide to nap.

An ideal sleep environment is one that helps you get the most restful sleep. For many people, this is a cool, dark place like a bedroom or quiet room. You can also use a fan or white noise machine to create a comforting, quiet environment. Eliminate as much light as possible, and consider silencing your phone or other devices.

Experts also recommend setting a napping routine. Just as it’s best for your health to fall asleep at the same time each night, it may be a good idea to set a daily nap schedule. This helps your brain know that it’s time to sleep. The NSF refers to this as “habitual napping,” and states that many people find it helpful to take a short nap after lunch each day.      

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Disclaimer: The content on this website is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before undertaking any type of therapy or treatment.