Sleep plays a crucial role in the overall brain health, mental health, and well-being of the human body. Most adults, with healthy sleep schedules, should get an average of 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night; however, many adults self-report not getting enough sleep, and experiencing daytime drowsiness, or they find it difficult to fall asleep. It is common for babies to nap throughout the day, as they need at least 15 hours of sleep in 24 hours, but are there benefits to napping during the day as an adult?
A nap is a short or brief period of sleep, generally, during daytime hours, that helps one combat the feeling of fatigue or daytime sleepiness. Naps are not as long as nighttime sleep, but may range from 20 minutes to a few hours, depending on the person napping. Feeling drowsy during the day is a normal feeling for most, and short naps can help you to power through the remainder of your day, without feeling groggy or sluggish.
Similar to nighttime sleep, the brain goes through sleep stages during naps. The first stage of sleep is the shortest, lasting no more than 7 minutes, and is the easiest stage of sleep to wake from, as you are in a state of light sleep.
The second sleep stage during naps lasts up to 25 minutes, and is the point in naps that the body relaxes, and body functions decrease.
The third stage of sleep, lasting 20 to 40 minutes, is known as slow-wave sleep, and allows for deep, restorative rest. Finally, REM sleep occurs as the fourth and final stage of a sleep cycle, and is accompanied by temporary muscle paralysis and dreaming.
While naps are often shorter than the amount of sleep you get at night, sleep cycles occur as normal. During the night, the average person goes through four to six sleep cycles, whereas during naps you may only go through a couple of stages of one sleep cycle, based on the nap length.
For most healthy adults, napping is a perfectly normal part of life that does not cause disruptions to their current sleep patterns. While naps have a lot going for them, it can be a sign of a bigger issue in those who feel the need to take a nap every day. For example, those diagnosed with insomnia or other sleep disorders are likely to have frequent naps as a part of their treatment plan, while healthy adults taking frequent naps could be experiencing an underlying medical condition.
Long naps seem enticing to most people, as many believe, “The longer I nap, the better I will feel”. For some, this may be true, but most people taking long naps wake up feeling groggy, or more sluggish than before napping. Long naps can make it difficult to fall asleep at night, while not napping long enough can be problematic, too.
Those who do not take a nap long enough to go through a full sleep cycle, do not reap the benefits of napping. Naps that last around 45 minutes can become troublesome, as you are not getting enough sleep, and often wake during slow wave sleep, making you wake feeling the effects of sleep inertia.
Sleep inertia occurs when you wake up during the third stage of a sleep cycle, known as slow wave sleep. The body has entered into a deeper, restorative state of sleep, and it is more difficult to wake a person during this stage. For those who wake during slow-wave sleep, you will experience increased fatigue, a sluggish or groggy feeling, and feel the effects of insufficient nighttime sleep.
Short naps, or “power naps” that are 30 minutes or less, are ideal in helping you power through the rest of your day, as the body does not have time to enter into a deep sleep, and allows you to wake feeling refreshed and energized.
To avoid insomnia, difficulty falling asleep, and staying asleep at night as a result of too many daytime naps, experts recommend taking short power naps throughout the day to combat daytime sleepiness, without causing nighttime sleep problems. Insomnia creates a vicious cycle of poor sleep habits as you continually feel tired during the day. Taking a nap regularly can make falling asleep and staying asleep difficult.
Sleep research suggests a nap at any age can have many benefits. For those who experience bad sleep quality, daytime napping reverses the feeling of fatigue from not getting enough sleep at night. Nap time can also help to maintain heart health, promote immune health, and keep you sharp throughout the day.
Naps are great for older adults who may wake frequently throughout the night, shift workers with bizarre schedules, and those who simply did not get a good night’s rest the night before.
There are many benefits to nap time during the day:
The National Sleep Foundation reports those who have healthy napping habits, and take two naps per week, experience a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, including stroke, heart disease, and heart attack.
Poor sleep quality can wreak havoc on your body, and increase the feeling of stress or worry. When you do not get enough sleep at night, healthy sleep during the day can relieve stress, and help to reverse the feeling of being sleep deprived.
When you experience poor sleep quality at night, an early afternoon power nap can help to improve work performance at school, work, or home, increase reaction times, boost alertness, and improve your critical thinking skills, helping you to better make decisions.
Are you working hard to learn a new skill or new information? Rather than cramming just before a big test or presentation, studies show those who take a nap lasting one hour helped to recall the information better. Those who reported taking a nap during the study also reported remembering the information more clearly after one week than those who were made to stay awake.
Taking a nap can help to reduce stress, especially when you have trouble sleeping at night. As a result, you are better equipped to deal with difficult or frustrating situations that you are met with throughout the day. Napping during the day leads to less impulsive actions, improved decision-making, and an overall better mood.
It is common to feel sluggish in the afternoon as a result of the normal circadian rhythm. For most people, you do not need to take a nap every day to reverse this feeling. However, napping can certainly help on days that you cannot muster the energy to be productive and get things done throughout the evening.
It is important to sleep in the early afternoon, not too close to bedtime, to avoid nighttime sleep troubles. Unless you work odd hours or shift work, you should not nap after 3 pm.
Taking a nap has many benefits to ensure optimal health of the mind and body, but can you sleep too much? A study conducted in China has shown that as women age, napping more than 90 minutes a day increases their risk of developing high blood pressure. High blood pressure is a serious medical condition that may be treated by lifestyle changes and medications.
Other studies have shown a link between type 2 diabetes and napping for more than one hour, with more frequent napping in those with high blood pressure, depression and anxiety, and diabetes.
Whether you take a daily nap or just on occasion, there are things you can do to ensure better sleep quality, just as you would during nighttime sleep.
The best environment for sleeping is one with little to no distractions, including bright lights, a cell phone, or the sound of a loud television. It is best to sleep in a dark, cool room, as this helps the body to enter into a relaxed state conducive to sleep. Be sure you are laying down in bed, rather than sleeping in an uncomfortable chair or space.
It is best to nap in the early afternoon, as you do not want to create problems sleeping at night by napping too close to bedtime. Unless you work shift work, taking a nap in the late evening can make it difficult to get good sleep at night, and may cause you to have trouble falling asleep.
Sleep specialists report taking a 30-minute power nap is better to get over midday fatigue. A short nap usually prevents the body from entering into slow-wave sleep, and you will wake feeling refreshed. A longer nap could leave you feeling groggy, rather than alert and rejuvenated.
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