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The pros and cons of napping

Taking naps has been the subject of scrutiny recently.

Some research points to napping as beneficial to employee productivity.

Other research suggests that long naps may actually be linked to chronic disease.

Here’s what we know about the benefits and risks of taking naps.

When is a nap a good thing?

There are lots of benefits to sneaking in power naps every once in a while. For some, naps can:

  • Curb the side effects of temporary sleep deprivation. If you missed getting adequate sleep the night before, a quick nap can be restorative.

    Note: Temporary sleep deprivation refers to a night every once in a while in which you don’t get enough sleep. If you experience recurring problems with sleep deprivation, this leads to sleep debt, and naps are not likely going to fix that problem.

  • Improve memory function and job performance. Younger people definitely benefit from a quick nap in the afternoon, which can help them immensely with their studies, if they are in school. For all ages, job performance (and physical performance, in general) can be enhanced by a brief period of shut eye. If you feel like you are sluggish while at work or in school, you may be able to improve the situation with a nap.

  • Lower blood pressure. Studies continue to show that for those who have hypertension, a short nap can help improve their readings.

  • Prevent mistakes in judgment or accidents while driving or operating machinery. Sometimes we don’t know we are sleep deprived, and for some, sleep deprivation has become a new normal that they cannot discern as being a liability.

    However, sleep debt and deprivation can make discernment difficult, especially when it comes to critical decisions and behavioral judgment calls.

    In addition, anyone who plans to drive or operate heavy equipment should strive to nap beforehand if they are feeling any sense of fatigue, clumsiness, or distraction, all which are signs of lingering sleep deprivation. Drowsy driving is dangerous and can strike anybody at any time.

  • Provide relief from stress. If you are going through a tough time, the stress that your body carries will make itself known through fatigue, pain, and mood dysregulation. A brief nap can help calm the body of stress, allow the body to heal inflammation and injury, and improve mood.

When is a nap a bad thing?

Despite the benefits of napping, an afternoon respite is not for everyone. Napping can be problematic if you:

  • Have insomnia. If you struggle to fall asleep at night, it might actually be caused by taking naps!

    If you take long naps or they take place later in the afternoon, they may alter your circadian rhythms by dampening your “sleep drive,” leading you to trouble with falling asleep at bedtime.

    Many insomniacs successfully overcome their problem through a strategy called “sleep restriction,” which is meant to reset the sleep-wake rhythms toincrease the sleep drive.

  • Suffer from unidentified or poorly addressed sleep disorders. If you have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), for instance, you will not cure it with naps. You will, however, find reliable relief in treating your OSA; once treated, your daytime sleepiness should disappear. This is true for other kinds of unidentified or under treated sleep disorders, as well.

  • Are diabetic,or likely to develop diabetes. Recent research has linked long afternoon naps (over an hour) to Type II Diabetes. Observational studies of morethan 300,000 people by the University of Tokyo found a curious link between long napping and a 45 percent increase in the incidence of diabetes when naps lasted at least 60 minutes.

  • Don’t know what is causing your daytime fatigue. Aside from sleep disorders, there’s a whole range of other causes for daytime sleepiness, from prescription medications to underlying health problems to depression and mood disorders. The best approach to understanding your daytime fatigue is to see a doctor to identify the root cause; once you know why, you can better address how to reclaim your daytime energy.

How to make naps work for you

The Mayo Clinic recommends that naps be taken between 2 and 3pm and last between 10 and 30 minutes. Doing so takes advantage of your normal post-meal dip in energy and, if done by 3pm, poses the least risk for causing sleeplessness in the evening.

Also, insist on good sleep hygiene : Make sure your have a dark, quiet, comfortable space with no interruptions so that you can easily slide into a short cycle of sleep, and use an alarm to prevent falling into deeper stages of sleep so you will awaken feeling refreshed.


Diabetes Journal
Mayo Clinic
University of Tokyo

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