Often during the day I feel the need to have a bit of a lie-down. Whether it’s been a busy day, I didn’t sleep well the night before, or for no particular reason I know of. But some will warn that you’ll be ruined for sleep that night if you nap during the day.
We asked five experts if we should nap during the day.
Here are their detailed responses:
Kathleen Maddison, Sleep Scientist
While there is evidence to suggest being sleepy is an early indicator of a sleep disorder or poor health, naps can be beneficial for many people. Naps reduce feelings of sleepiness and increase alertness but also improve performance in areas such as reaction time, co-ordination, logical reasoning, memory consolidation, symbol recognition, mood, and emotion regulation.
There is also evidence to suggest daytime naps may decrease blood pressure in some individuals. But there are a few caveats: 1) if you are napping to catch-up on poor quality night-time sleep then this needs to be resolved; 2) limit the nap to ten to 30 minutes to reduce the risk of suffering from sleep inertia (when you wake up feeling even more sleepy); 3) avoid napping later in the day as it may prolong the time it takes to fall asleep at night.
Michelle Olaithe, Psychologist
Napping can be very beneficial and can, in part, make up for sleep lost due to work, kids, or wild nights. Short naps can improve alertness, mood, and memory. When you nap, aim for around ten to 30 minutes, this will stop you from reaching deep sleep and won’t interfere with your night-time sleep routine.
Adequate sleep, around seven to nine hours in a 24-hour cycle for most adults, is essential for optimum immune and brain function, to reduce your risk of car accidents, and decrease your risk of a range of chronic health problems. However, sleep appears to be best when consolidated at night, so don’t let your napping interfere with your night-time sleep. Excessive daytime tiredness could be a clue to an underlying sleep or health problem: when in doubt check with your doctor.
Raymond Matthews, Sleep Researcher
If someone asks if they should have a nap, the answer should usually be “yes, go take a nap.” Adults will typically only consider sleep if they are tired, and the best countermeasure for tiredness is sleep. There are two consequences of having a nap.
First, it decreases the drive for sleep. This is good if you need to be awake after the nap, but can be problematic if the nap is too near your usual bed time. Second, if the nap is too long you can feel that horrible groggy feeling after waking up, called sleep inertia. If you need to be performing well immediately after the nap, keep it to a brief 30 minutes.
Even a very short nap can keep you performing at your best, but if you are not especially tired or noticing cognitive impairment, napping is not essential in daily adult life.
Shona Halson, Physiologist
Many individuals are sleep deprived, and a chronic reduction in sleep is related to reductions in physical and mental well-being. Sleep deprivation has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, memory loss, and anxiety and depression.
Using naps to ‘top up’ on sleep can be an effective means of increasing total sleep in a 24 hour period and has proven benefits for performance, efficiency, mood and alertness and can reduce fatigue and accidents.
Ideally naps should not be taken too late in the day or for too long as this can interfere with your ability to fall asleep as well as the quality of night-time sleep. If you get enough sleep at night, you probably won’t need to nap during the day.
Jennifer Zaslona, Sleep Researcher
As adults, if we are getting enough sleep at night on a regular basis there should be no need to take naps during the day. In fact there is some evidence regularly napping for more than an hour may negatively impact on your health. However, naps can be very useful, particularly if you are unwell, have been missing out on sleep, or your sleep has been of poor quality. This is more likely to occur for older adults or people who work irregular hours. In these cases, short naps will help boost your alertness.
In the early afternoon, our internal clock provides a slightly reduced signal for alertness which is why we may feel sleepy after lunch, particularly if we haven’t been getting enough sleep. This is a good time to try and nap if you are going to. Importantly, listen to your body, if you feel sleepy, it’s usually because you need more sleep.