Is Napping a Good Idea?
The short answer: It depends, but probably.
Anyone one who knows me knows that I am a sleep evangelist — I’ll talk about the importance of getting good sleep to anyone who will listen, usually my patients.
A few years ago, I met someone who is as passionate about touting the benefits of sleep as I am — Neil Parikh, the Chief Strategy Officer of Casper. Neil and I decided to join forces and co-author a book, Better Sleep, Better You, which has just been released.
One of the topics we tackle in the book is napping, which can be a surprisingly polarizing topic in the sleep world. On one hand, naps are a great way to catch up on sleep if you’re deprived. Some experts believe that it doesn’t matter when we sleep so long as we get enough total shut-eye hours since, according to them, we were never meant to sleep in one long stretch. And many warm-weather cultures observe the siesta, a 60- to 90-minute nap between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
On the other hand, napping can be a notorious nighttime sleep- stealer, making it more difficult to fall asleep and stay there. Naps can be beneficial, but you have to be smart about how you use them.
Releasing Sleep Pressure
Let’s consider the brain for a minute. Adenosine is a chemical that the brain produces simply because it’s awake. The longer you’re awake, the more adenosine that accumulates in the brain. And all that accumulated adenosine eventually builds up and makes you and your brain sleepy at the appropriate evening time. This is called “sleep pressure.”
As anyone who has curled up on the sofa on a rainy afternoon can tell you, napping relieves sleep pressure. However, by prematurely doing so in the middle of the day instead of at night, you can potentially interfere with your natural sleep-wake cycle. If you’re someone who tends to struggle with falling asleep at night, napping may not be for you.
But for others, a nap can be a powerful sleep supplement. Research has shown that a well-timed, well-executed nap can boost alertness, mood, and productivity. One particularly fascinating study looked at the effects that a short nap had on the afternoon training session of athletes who were suffering from some degree of sleep loss. After a quick 30-minute snooze, both their performance and mental sharpness improved compared to teammates who didn’t get to take a rest.
The Three-Step Quickie
Choose the right time
Your body temperature naturally dips between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., causing a small uptick in melatonin and a subtle downshift in your energy. (Yes, the post-lunch slump is real.) Aim to nap during this window or slightly earlier; anything later will most likely mess with bedtime.
Keep it short
The most potent naps are brief — even 10 to 20 minutes can boost your alertness and mental function without leaving you feeling drowsy. Cap your naps at 30 minutes.
*The Long-Nap Exception: naps longer than 30 minutes are called for in situations where nighttime sleep is being regularly disturbed, such as for parents of a newborn. In these cases, giving your body the rest it needs at any time in the day and for any length of time is more beneficial than not.
There’s evidence that consistent nappers reap more benefits than dabblers, so consider making regular napping a habit.
Care for a “Nappaccino”?
While Neil and I can’t take credit for the clever name, we can pass along this suggestion, which has been doing the rounds on the sleep circuit and is backed up by anecdotal evidence. The “Nappaccino” calls for drinking an 8‐ounce cup of coffee before you take a nap. That way you’re not only heading off the drowsy‐making adenosine build‐up that caffeine contributes to, you’re also waking up just as the caffeine is kicking in, 20 to 25 minutes later. In theory then, you’re reaping double‐whammy energy‐boosting benefits.
Adapted from BETTER SLEEP, BETTER YOU. Copyright ©2021 by Frank Lipman, MD, and Neil Parikh with Rachael Holtzman. Used with permission of Little, Brown Spark, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company. New York, NY. All rights reserved.