Nap happy

Categories: News  /  Research

A pretty young woman takes a nap in a park with her hat covering her face and a book in her arms on a sunny day

For some, the midday call of the hammock or daybed is too tempting to resist. But is an afternoon nap good for you?

For those who don’t get enough nighttime sleep — which is most of us — it would seem to make sense. But in fact, the research into napping has presented a mixed picture.

Sleep, of course, is vital for good health — both physical and mental. It keeps you alert and focused. It helps process memories. It may even boost your body’s natural defenses, protecting you from illness.

But studies looking just at napping have shown some benefits. Naps may ease stress and make us more alert. It may improve our emotions — with one study finding naps reducing feelings of frustration or acting impulsively.

Some other studies have suggested daytime naps might be bad, associated with a shortened life span — particularly for those who nap more than an hour a day. That might be that people who nap more have serious health problems, or may not sleep well at night — which by itself can have negative health consequences.

It’s probably not the best way to make up for lost sleep, since napping usually doesn’t include cycles of deep sleep — the most restorative kind.

Yet naps are part of many cultures around the world. And experts recommend naps for those who work night shifts, have jet lag or suffer from narcolepsy, a sleep disorder.

If you do decide to hit the hay with the sun shining, you might want to consider these tips:

  • Limit naps to 20 to 30 minutes. Longer naps can leave you groggy— which can make you more likely to make mistakes or have accidents shortly after waking up.
  • Don’t nap after 3 p.m. Naps later in the day may interfere with your ability to fall asleep at night.
  • Nap in a quiet, dark and comfortable place. Limit distractions by turning off your cell phone, computer, and TV.

For more information on this or other health topics, visit University Health System’s Health Library.

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