By Mihir Shah, M.D.
Getting to the middle of the day only to reach for a sugary snack or caffeinated drink for a boost of energy can have you wondering: Are naps good for adults? Especially since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one-third of American adults are sleep deprived, it may seem that napping is the answer. Though napping during the day can have some drawbacks, you might be surprised to learn that naps do offer a variety of health benefits that go beyond a feeling of greater alertness.
Good Reasons to Catch 30 Winks
- Improved mental performance – The right kind of nap can make you feel more rested and alert for the second part of your day and actually boost brain function, including memory, idea processing and learning, and even creative thinking skills and problem solving.
- Health and wellness perks – Napping can also improve your mood and relieve stress – which may be why it’s also been linked to improved heart health. Because our immune systems do their best work when we’re asleep, napping can also give your immune system a boost.
- Better nighttime sleep – Surprisingly, older adults may find that keeping to a routine of an early afternoon nap with early evening exercise helps them get better sleep at night.
- Post-nap fatigue – Taking a nap that’s too long can put your body into a cycle of deeper sleep and leave you feeling more tired when you wake up than you were before your nap.
- Nighttime sleep issues – A long daytime nap can also make it difficult to fall asleep at night. This can become a vicious cycle if you wake the next morning feeling exhausted – and in need of another long nap.
How to Nap Right
The key to striking the best balance between naps that help and naps that hinder has to do with the length of time and when you’re snoozing during the day. Shorter naps provide the best benefits, while longer naps can actually make you feel worse.
Naps can be great, even routinely, under the right circumstances:
- Keep them brief. Aim for as brief a nap as possible – even just 10 to 20 minutes, but no more than 90, depending on your needs – to prevent yourself from slipping into deep sleep. If you aren’t able to fall asleep within your budgeted time, get back up and return to your daily activities.
- Take naps early. Try to complete your nap before 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. afternoon so that your nap won’t interfere with nighttime sleep.
- Set yourself up for success. Make sure you take your nap in a comfortable, calm, quiet environment with no distractions.
And, if you find yourself needing long naps routinely, these naps can suggest an overall sleep or health issue. If you are having difficulty sleeping at night and feeling exhausted during the day or need frequent, long naps, schedule an appointment with your doctor, who can help you create a plan for better sleep.
Dr. Shah is a board-certified Internal Medicine physician who cares for patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s The Vintage Clinic. His clinical interests include acute and chronic medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, elevated cholesterol, and obesity.