We all know the feeling. Work isn’t over, but you’re already longing for bed. Just thinking of a nap is enough to give up all your tasks with the knowledge you could get it done after a quick 30-minute snooze. But would taking that break really help?
Napping is excellent if you need to reduce a small sleep debt, but it might not be so valuable for those experiencing insomnia or poor sleep quality. Below, we'll examine the pros and cons of napping and how it can fit into your circadian rhythm.
Napping can have both positive and negative effects on sleep, depending on how it fits into your circadian rhythm.
If you don’t need them often, naps can help you recover from a poor night’s sleep. They can also improve alertness and concentration. However, naps can further disrupt your circadian rhythm if you're already struggling to fall asleep at night. A recent study published in Sleep that looked at naps and insomnia found that frequent naps are associated with "persistent insomnia symptoms" in middle-aged adults.
The key to a helpful—not hurtful—nap is timing. Naps taken early in the day, before 3 p.m., are more likely to be refreshing and energizing. Naps taken later in the day, after 3 p.m., are more likely to interfere with nighttime sleep.
There are a few different reasons for this.
First, our bodies have a natural circadian rhythm that dictates when we should sleep. Our exposure to light primarily determines this rhythm. In the morning, light signals to our brains that it's time to wake up. In the evening, as the sun sets, our brains starts to produce melatonin, a hormone that makes us feel sleepy.
Napping late in the day can interfere with this natural rhythm, making it more difficult to fall asleep at night.
Next, it's important to consider how the timing of naps affects sleep stages. Adults have four recognized sleep stages: two stages of light, non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, one stage of deep NREM sleep, and one stage of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
Early or late afternoon naps often achieve NREM sleep. This type of rest is easy to wake up from, allowing you to return to your day quickly and restfully.
In contrast, naps taken later in the day are more likely to include deep NREM sleep and REM sleep. This type of nap can leave you groggy and disoriented when you get out of bed. It can also make falling asleep later more challenging.
Do naps help with sleep debt? Yes, but they can also make it worse. If you're going to nap, try these tips to ensure it doesn't disrupt your nighttime sleep.
When you're struggling with daytime sleepiness, napping isn’t inevitable. There are a few things you can do to fight drowsiness without napping.
You may have noticed a notable omission…caffeine. Caffeine can be highly effective at keeping you alert. Too effective, actually. Caffeine can stay in your system for hours, so avoiding consuming it late in the day is vital.
Napping seems like a good idea at 2:30 pm, and you struggle to keep your eyes open. Naps are not always the answer to daytime sleepiness. They can sometimes make the problem worse.
The best way to feel energetic and awake during the day is to address the sleep issues causing your daytime fatigue. If you’re often experiencing daytime sleepiness, take the sleep quiz to receive personalized recommendations to sleep better.