Are Naps Actually Good For You? A Sleep Doctor Weighs In
When naps are good, they're really good. A short, mid-day snooze can feel like the ultimate self-care treat, leaving you feeling more refreshed and energized than before. Unfortunately, the opposite about napping is also true. There are those times when you settle down for a nap and wake up feeling far worse, questioning who you are, where you are, and how you got there. These are the kind of naps that often also mess with your ability to sleep later that night, making us wonder: Are naps even good for you?
We asked clinical psychologist Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., aka "The Sleep Doctor," for the answer. However, the verdict isn't as simple as "yes" or "no." "To be honest, naps should not be necessary," says Dr. Breus, a Diplomat of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a partner with the sleep company Hästens. "If you are getting the sleep you need, then you should be alert all day."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35% of U.S. adults aren't getting the recommended minimum of seven hours of sleep each night, meaning that more than one in three of us could probably use a nap right about now. And while getting better sleep each night is the ultimate fix to sleep deprivation, there are benefits to napping and ways to do so that will give you that rejuvenated feeling. So, we asked Dr. Breus and Rachel Eva Dew, DNM, DIM, PhD, a double-board certified Doctor of Natural and Integrative Medicine for advice. Keep reading to learn how to get the most from your naps.
What are the benefits of napping?
According to Dr. Breus, naps can offer several health benefits, including increased alertness, better stamina, reduced stress, increased creativity, and a strengthened immune system. Research has widely shown that sleep deprivation can lead to overall health complications (including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and mental illness) and some studies have shown that naps can partly offset some of these effects.
In particular, one 2011 study, which analyzed the benefits of napping on sleep-deprived subjects, found that 30-minute naps boosted the production of leukocytes, which are white blood cells that help the immune system tackle infectious diseases. Another study from 2015 analyzed the hormone levels of sleep-deprived subjects before and after napping, finding that short naps helped reduce stress and moderate blood pressure.
How long should you nap?
If you've been missing out on sleep at night, you may be tempted to slip into an hours-long daytime nap when presented with the opportunity—but this can often make matters worse. "Excessively long naps throw off your internal sleep/wake rhythm and can interfere with your ability to get a full night of rest," Dr. Breus explains. "They can also lead to those 'where am I?' hazes you sometimes experience when you wake up, and that's obviously not what you want." A good, healthy nap, on the other hand, should leave you "more alert and ready to tackle the second half of your day," he adds.
According to Dr. Dew, the co-founder and CEO of ModiHealth, "a healthy nap is typically 30 to 90 minutes—and anything over 90 minutes can have opposite effects."
But you shouldn't just set your timer for anywhere between that timeframe and call it good. Dr. Breus explains that power napping, for 20 to 30 minutes, can have the benefits explained above, while napping for 90 minutes can offer the benefits of a full sleep cycle. Sleeping for a random amount of time between those intervals or for more than 90 minutes, however, can lead to something called sleep inertia. Sleep inertia refers to the transitional state between sleep and wakefulness, which happens when you're woken up during REM sleep, and it feels like extreme grogginess and disorientation. So, when you settle down for a nap, it's best to have a specific plan in mind.
How to take a healthy and productive nap:
For starters, think about your nap goals. For example, Dr. Breus asks, "Are you looking to re-claim mental sharpness in your busy working afternoons? Want to have more power and energy for your end-of-day gym session? Need to prepare for—or recover from—a long-distance trip?" Your individual needs and nap goal can help you determine what type of nap is best for you, and spoiler: there are lots of types to choose from.
Dr. Breus outlines nine different nap options on his website. They include the "CEO Nap," a 25-minute nap between the hours of 1 to 3 p.m.; the "Nap A Latte," which involves drinking a cup of coffee right before going down for a 20-minute nap; and the "Disco Nap," in which you nap for 90 minutes before heading out for a long night. You can read through the rest of the options here to see what style best suits your needs.
No matter what type of nap you choose, Dr. Breus notes that it's important to also consider some environmental factors as well to ensure you can successfully fall asleep. This includes finding a quiet space, turning your phone to silent to avoid notifications interrupting your snooze, and keeping yourself nice and cool. This is because the body's core temperature naturally decreases during sleep and setting your thermostat to a lower temp can help signal to your body that it's time for sleep. According to the Sleep Foundation, the best temperature for sleep is approximately 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dr. Dew adds that sleep isn't the only way to get some of the benefits of napping, suggesting meditation as an alternative option for those who aren't big on naps. "Meditation for anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes can recharge the brain, energize your entire physiology, and give an increased clarity of thoughts and increase energy for the remainder of the day," she explains.
One 2015 study even found that meditation can help improve your quality of sleep at night as well. The study observed 49 middle-aged and older adults who had trouble sleeping and found that those who attended six mindfulness meditation sessions had less insomnia, fatigue, and depression. (If you're interested in trying meditation for yourself, check here for some of the best meditation apps.)
So, whenever you're feeling sleep deprived and are looking for a way to refresh your energy, consider all your options above before simply slipping into a mid-day snooze.