Benefits of Afternoon Naps

A brief, afternoon nap might be just the thing to help you make it through the holidays or any day more joyfully.  There is a skill to napping: the when and the how long are definitely key.  First you put your feet up...


Do you get excited at the prospect of being able to take a peaceful afternoon nap?  Not all naps are created equal.  It is generally thought that naps interfere with the body’s homeostatic sleep drive.  This drive is your natural ability to sleep at night after a long period of wakefulness. 

However, recent studies  show naps to have great benefit if they are taken at the right duration and time of day.  Short naps lasting 5 to 15 minutes improve cognition for several hours afterwards.  Longer naps lasting more than twenty minutes and up to a few hours can make a person have difficulty wakening initially but provide improved cognition for many hours later.

If the nap is too close to your normal bedtime, you will have less drive to fall asleep.  This will push back your body’s natural desire to fall asleep at bedtime.

So how should naps fit into your daily routine and are you a candidate?  Although it is ideal to sleep uninterrupted for 7-9 hours, what is more important is the cumulative amount of sleep one gets for a twenty-four hour period.  If you’re someone who wakens sometime during the night, catching an afternoon nap may compensate for this disruption

The New York Times recently published an article titled “Rethinking Sleep” that addresses the issue of sleeping in segments and napping.  We now know that benefits of napping come with habitual short naps: Those who regularly nap reap more benefits than those who rarely nap.

Taking a brief afternoon nap will help rejuvenate those who suffer sleep deprivation from waking in the middle of the night before falling back to sleep.  You may even need a short nap in the late morning.  These regular short naps may improve your energy and daytime performance such that sleeping for two 3 ½ segments the night before is of little consequence.

Also, what you think about your sleep affects your ability to fall asleep and sleep soundly.  Knowing that you can, “catch up” with regular naps may alleviate nighttime anxiety about waking during the night.  It may also relieve you of the need to take sleeping pills to force yourself into an eight-hour slumber.

Further research is needed on bimodal sleep patterns in healthy individuals and how to compensate with daytime naps.  But we are making progress with our current knowledge about this area.  We’re developing a healthier mind-set about how normal sleep is defined and what measures may be taken in order to feel energized throughout the day.