Cat naps, power naps, siestas: you’ll no longer need to think of an excuse to take a snooze on the couch in the middle of the day.
Research carried out over the last few decades have created a strong base of scientific information that demonstrates the benefits of naps for people of all ages.
Here we give you some key facts and benefits that go along with regular napping so that you can defend your precious daytime dreaming.
- Who Naps, Anyway?
- Different types of Naps
- Benefits of Napping
- Long Naps vs. Short Naps
- Tips for Effective Napping
Who Naps, Anyway?
While babies and young children are the most infamous nappers, napping throughout adulthood is a cross-cultural phenomenon (1).
There are three main types of nappers (2):
- People who have experienced sleep loss, like those who have pulled all-nighters to meet a deadline, or those who have jobs that require staying awake for long periods of time (doctors, security guards, pilots, etc.)
- People who are preparing for sleep loss, which may include some of the categories of people mentioned above.
- People who nap for enjoyment.
Different types of Naps
The National Sleep Foundation categorizes naps in the following ways (3):
- Planned napping: these are the types of naps you take to keep from getting sleepy. If you are going out later that night, for example, you might take a nap to recharge and keep from getting tired later on.
- Emergency napping: these are the sort of naps you take when you are so tired that you can’t keep on doing what you are doing. If you are falling asleep at your desk, it is likely it is time for an emergency nap.
- Habitual napping: If you take naps at the same time each day, this is called habitual napping. Parents often try to get their kids to follow this technique, or adults might take a “siesta” after lunch every day.
Benefits of Napping
Improves logical reasoning and alertness
Naps improve your level of alertness, with some of the most beneficial sorts of naps for immediate improvement being those that last as little as 5 minutes (5).
A study carried out by NASA on sleepy pilots found that 40 minute naps doubled alertness and improved performance by over 30% (7).
When short naps are combined with caffeine, improvement in performance is significant, even when compared to other sleep-fighting measures like using a bright light or face-washing (8).
Improves reaction time
Researchers at the Institution of Aerospace Medicine took a group of young males and were forced to experience sleep deprivation for 40 hours at time for only two weeks. The reaction time of the group that was allowed three 30-minute naps at specific times throughout the day was significantly better than the group that wasn’t allowed to have naps. At the same time, however, the number of right and wrong did not change between groups.
If you are feeling physically weak, a nap might be just what the doctor ordered. Taking even 10-minute naps may help to boost physical strength and decrease the feeling of fatigue (17).
Strengthens immune system
It is not simply a bad coincidence that you start to feel ill after many nights of sleep deprivation. Even after one night of getting limited sleep, your white blood cell count begins to decline. Your white blood cells are the first line of defense against infections and viruses, so when your white blood cell begins to go down, you are more susceptible to getting sick (9).
However, naps and other forms of recovery sleep help to return while blood cell values back to normal (9).
Mood includes a range of feelings, including level of sleepiness, self-confidence, and motivation. When we are sleepy and are unable to sleep, we usually end of feeling cranky and irritable. A 20-minute nap can significantly improve mood when a list of mood parameters is subjectively assessed (16).
For this one, you don’t need the studies to tell you that taking a nap makes you feel relaxed, cozy, and recharged when you limit yourself to about 20 minutes.
Enhances learning ability
A study carried out in Brock University in Canada found that napping could help to consolidate motor learning. However, in this study, the benefit was more significant when people were “habitual nappers” or took naps regularly (10).
Additionally, when compared with caffeine, short, 60 to 90-minute naps improved the ability to retain newly-memorized information (12).
Another study found that 45- to 60-minute naps may boost brain power and increase our capacity to remember things by up to five times when compared with those who don’t take naps (13). The researchers conclude that certain types of learning content, like association, but not item memory (14).
Has psychological benefits
It is hard to deny that the feeling of climbing under the covers for a midday nap when you are feeling sleepy is utter satisfaction. Naps, indeed, increase serotonin in the brain and make us feel happy, relaxed and satisfied. This can help to reduce tension and anxiety, and it might even provoke feelings of nostalgia from your childhood.
When you take short naps on a regular basis, it helps to relieve tension. A reduction in stress also has the benefit of lowering your risk of heart disease (6).
Stress is most greatly reduced when you nap for the same amount of time at regular hours, ideally after lunch when your energy begins to dip.
You might have noticed that the length of naps is definitely an important factor when you take into account the potential benefits of taking a siesta.
Because of this, we’ve summarized the findings based on length of time.
- 20-minute naps are often called power naps or cat naps. These sorts of naps enhance concentration and alertness, improves your mood, and could even improve your motor skills (2).
- 45-minute naps improve learning, memory and concentration (2). If you are able to reach REM (rapid eye movement) during this period, you will also boost creative thinking and sensory processing (2).
- 90- to 120-minute naps will allow you to complete a full REM cycle, and it is also about the length of time we “miss” of sleep the night before (2).
Long Naps vs. Short Naps
Naps that last only 5 to 15 minutes have benefits almost immediately after waking, but they only last 1 to 3 hours (5).
Naps that last more than 30 minutes can make you feel groggy or disoriented right after waking due to sleep inertia, which is the desire to continue sleeping. However, soon after waking, however, these naps help improve cognitive function for up to many hours after waking (5). However, it is important to note that frequent long naps, especially among older adults, are associated with greater morbidity and mortality (11).
In other words, if you want a quick recharge, take a short 5 to 10-minute nap, but don’t expect the feeling of recharge to last too long. If you want to improve alertness for more than an hour or so after waking, like if you have to finish something to turn in, or if you want to avoid getting tired from plan to take at least a 30-minute nap (5).
Tips for Effective Napping
To have the best naps, do you best to:
- Make sure the temperature in the room is comfortable, or that you have a comfortable number of sheets or comforters to cover you.
- Limit the amount of noise around you, or find a place that muffles the noise if you cannot control it. If necessary, use earplugs to control noise.
- Find a dark place to nap in. This will help you fall asleep faster, since light automatically activates a range of brain sensors that will keep you awake for longer.
- Avoid taking naps too late in the day, as this could disrupt your regular nighttime sleep, or cause significant disorientation.
- Nap at about the same time every day, so that your body gets in the rhythm of winding down. This will also help prevent oversleeping if you train your body to take shorter naps.
- Take shorter naps for immediate alertness, and longer naps if you are preparing for a longer day (or night) than usual.
- Talk to your friends and family about the benefits of napping so that you can find support in your napping venture, rather than having to deal with criticism.
Taking naps on a regular basis can help to improve your quality of life in a variety of ways. Not only does it give you pleasure and make you feel better in the short-term, it can also improve your health and promote longevity.
The key to effective napping is training you to take short 20-minute naps, rather than 1 to 2 hour-long naps, at about the same time every day.
Naps aren’t just for babies anymore!