Whether it’s a power nap or a more luxurious, longer snooze, napping is popular. About 4 out of 5 adults (80.7%) in the United States reported taking at least one nap of 10 minutes or more in the past three months, according to a survey from the Sleep Foundation and sleep app Sleep Cycle. Baystate Health sleep medicine neurologist, Dr. Karin Johnson, shares information about the benefits of napping, napping concerns, and napping as you get older.
Why is sleep important?
“A good night’s sleep is still the best way to clear toxins away from the brain, create energy and strengthen our immune system,” Dr. Johnson says.
Are naps good for adults?
It all depends on why you’re napping. Dr. Johnson says naps can be beneficial but, in some cases, they signal an underlying health issue.
Let’s start with when naps are good. The Center for Disease Control recommends adults get seven or more hours of sleep a night. If you simply didn’t have time to get enough sleep, a short nap can improve your alertness, memory, problem-solving speed, focus and productivity. On top of that, naps help you relax which may decrease stress and irritability.
Another good reason to nap is to prevent drowsy driving. Dr. Johnson says pulling over for a short nap (less than 30 minutes) is much more likely to prevent a micro sleep on the road than opening windows or singing. Basically, this kind of nap can save your life.
Keep in mind that if you sleep for more than 30 minutes, you may feel groggy when you wake up and need extra time to feel sharp again. According to the Sleep Foundation, this is because after about a half hour of napping, people move into a deeper stage of sleep that may take more time to wake up from
5 TIPS FOR TAKING THE BEST NAP
Follow these simple guidelines for a healthy nap:
- Nap at the right time: Take your nap in the late morning or early afternoon. Late afternoon and evening naps may make it harder to fall asleep at night.
- Keep it short: Nap for thirty minutes or less. You may want to set an alarm since longer naps may cause sleep inertia (a groggy feeling after waking up) and are more likely to affect night sleep.
- Get comfy: Napping in a dark, cool, quiet, and comfortable place will make the nap more effective. This goes for nighttime sleep too.
- A word about power naps: These super short naps work for some people. Dr. Johnson’s patients have said even a 2-5 minute nap rejuvenates them. Nighttime sleep is still the way to get the best rest.
- Use CPAP: If you use a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine to treat your sleep apnea at night, it is recommended that you use it for napping too.
When do naps become unhealthy?
The rejuvenating power of a nap may seem dazzling but certain types of naps are a cause for concern.
Napping is unhealthy if it makes it difficult for a person to fall asleep or stay asleep at night.
If you sleep at least seven hours at night but still need naps on a regular basis, it could be due to a sleep disorder such as:
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Coronary heart disease
If you need frequent naps, long naps or never feel well rested on a regular basis, Dr. Johnson recommends seeing your primary care provider to be sure you’re healthy and get treatment or a referral to a sleep specialist if needed.
Learn about sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and hypersomnia.
How to prevent unintentional naps
If you regularly fall asleep without meaning to in the late afternoon or evening, such as after work or while watching TV around dinner time, Dr. Johnson recommends breaking the cycle.
Plan a short, regular midday nap to prevent crashing on the couch later.
If you stop dozing off late in the day, you’ll get better sleep at night and might be able to quit napping.
Other people may benefit from continuing short naps to improve afternoon alertness as long as it isn’t affecting nighttime sleep.
Napping at different ages
Babies, toddlers, teens and adults all have different napping needs, according the Sleep Foundation.
Babies typically start sleeping longer at night after 2-4 months but will continue to nap multiple times a day for at least the first year and stay asleep from 30 minutes to two hours depending on their age.
Toddlers generally take one nap a day and may slowly reduce the length of their nap or stop napping altogether.
The napping guidelines for teens are similar to those for adults.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, it is recommended that 13-18-year-olds get 8-10 hours of sleep at night. If they don’t, a nap can help them catch up on sleep.
Do people nap more as they age?
“Due to age-related changes in circadian rhythms, which affect when we sleep, adults over age 60 may sleep less at night, wake up earlier and take more naps,” Dr. Johnson says.
She adds that as we age, we’re also likely to develop chronic, often painful conditions and take medicines which may disrupt nighttime sleep. A nap can help recharge your body and mind after a poor night’s sleep.
If naps don’t help you, Dr. Johnson recommends talking with your primary care provider.