Ah, naps. Those quick little afternoon pick-me-ups can feel like magical gems of energy. But sometimes we feel guilty for grabbing some shut-eye. So should you give in to temptation and catch a few zzz's when that late afternoon energy dip starts to take hold? Or do you forge ahead and stay awake to promote your pep?
For many people, a nap is the smarter choice. Believe it or not, short sleep sessions might have more to offer your health and well-being than you realize.
Benefits of Napping
Some people assume that napping is an activity associated with babies or small children. Many of us have been taught that naps are no longer necessary after you reach a certain age. However, research suggests otherwise. Napping can help anyone who gets tired - and that is all of us!
Mental health experts have been researching the relationship between sleep and health for years and this interest in the power of rest has led to studies on the benefits of napping. Naps provide a wide variety of wellness benefits, even if you get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep at night.
Boosts Cognitive Performance
According to a 2021 systematic review from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, afternoon naps can improve your cognitive performance and make you more alert. The review analyzed research from 17 different studies that collected data on the effects of brief daytime naps. Participants in the studies were 18 years or older and solely worked daytime hours.
Results from the studies consistently showed that naps helped boost participants' levels of cognitive performance and alertness. The benefits lasted up to two hours after each nap session. The duration of the nap did not influence the effect on cognitive performance, and the results were consistent across sex and age.
It should be noted that the majority of the studies were conducted in a controlled laboratory setting. Researchers call for further real-world data to be collected in order to solidify the evidence of the benefits.
Promotes Emotional Regulation
Have you ever noticed that you feel cranky, moody, or just off when you're tired? You're not the only one. For many years, researchers have noted that sleep helps with emotional regulation. However, further studies show that these benefits can also be achieved by taking naps.
Research suggests that after a nap, people show an increased ability to control their emotions. This means that if you're having a rough day, or if notice that your mood starts to fluctuate when the late afternoon rolls around, you might benefit from a nap. Odds are that you'll wake up feeling refreshed and more in control of your own emotions.
Improves Long-Term Memory
The Sleep Research Society (SRS) notes that napping can help keep your memory sharp. The SRS conducted a study published in Sleep Journal that shows how napping can have real-world benefits on memory retention. The study included 84 university students and measured the effects of different ways to prepare for tests.
Participants were split into three groups, the napping group, the cramming group, and the taking breaks group. All groups studied the same learning material for the same amount of time until they were instructed to either take a nap, watch a movie, or keep studying. Tests were given to participants 30 minutes after their study sessions, and again one week later.
Results showed that both the cramming and napping group showed improved memory in the test that was given 30 minutes post-studying. However, one week after the experiment, the napping group maintained a boost in memory while the cramming group did not, suggesting that naps might be just what you need to improve your memory.
Prompts Learning Ability
Not only can napping help with memory consolidation, but it can also boost your ability to learn. That's right, after you take a nap, research shows that you might actually be better at learning new information.
Science suggests that slow wave activity occurs in the brain while you nap. These brain waves refresh your mind while you sleep. You might begin your nap with the weight of the day running through your thoughts, but wake up to find that saturation has decreased. As a result, you are able to focus on other elements and retain new information. Naps can help also improve your recognition and recall, as well as a variety of other abilities.
Lifts Your Mood
It might not come as a surprise, but research shows that napping can boost a person's mood. One study from the Journal of Sport and Exercise Sciences conducted an experiment where participants took a nap for 20 minutes, 90 minutes, or had no nap at all during their day.
The results showed that participants who slept for 20 minutes showed significantly improved self-reported mood scores. However, the 90-minute nap group showed only a mild improvement in their mood, while the no-nap group reported even lower scores than their baseline.
Tips to Up Your Napping Game
Some people can fall asleep anywhere, at any time. But not everyone can find rest so quickly or easily. If you find it difficult to take naps, or if you just want to make your sleep experience the best possible, explore the tips below to help make napping more effective.
Make Your Environment Comfortable
Your sleep space matters. If you're in a bright, loud, or busy environment, you might find it challenging to fall asleep. Fill your nap space with blankets, scents, and items that help you feel at ease.
If you're trying to squeeze in a quick nap at work during a break, it might be difficult to make your space comfy and cozy. Some ways to improve your on-the-go or at work include:
- Bringing a cozy blanket or sweatshirt with you, or keeping them in your car for easy access
- Dimming the lights, resting your head on your hands, or wearing an eye mask to block out the light
- Putting on headphones and listening to relaxing music or guided relaxation meditation
Get Some Exercise Beforehand
You might think that exercising and napping might work against each other. But that is not the case.
Research suggests that physical activity can enhance the memory-boosting power of naps. For this reason, you might want to take a quick rest after you get your body moving. You might also find that physical exertion makes your mind and body ready for rest.
Only Nap When You're Tired
Naps may have health benefits, but you may only experience them if you're actually able to rest. It's important to take naps only when you're feeling tired. If you lay down to nap, and notice that you can't fall asleep within five to ten minutes, it might be a sign that you aren't yet ready to nap.
If this happens, you can get out of bed and do a relaxing activity, like reading, journaling, or some light cleaning until you feel tired enough to sleep. Don't force yourself to rest if you aren't ready.
Everyone naps differently. You might nap every day, or just once a week. You might prefer short 20-minute naps, while others might like longer ones. Allow yourself to rest in whatever way feels right for you. Remind yourself that you shouldn't feel guilty about napping. When you rest, you refresh your mind and body and prepare yourself to put your best foot forward for the rest of the day.
Frequently Asked Questions About Napping
Q: Are naps good for your health?
A: Research shows that naps can improve memory, learning ability, cognitive performance, and even boost a person's mood.
Q: How long should my nap last?
A: The field of psychology has not yet come to an agreement on the ideal duration of nap times. However, many studies suggest that naps between 15 to 35 minutes have benefits.
Q: What time during the day should I take a nap?
A: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that people do their best to take naps before mid-afternoon.
Q: Will naps negatively affect my ability to sleep at night?
A: Late evening naps have been linked to poorer sleep quality, such as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. This is why the NIH suggests morning or afternoon nap times.