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Daytime Naps: The Advantages and Disadvantages

by Dr Prem Community Writer
Daytime-Nap

Daytime napping is often looked down upon. If you’re caught napping, literally, during the day, you were sure to be censured by your employer/senior. However, the stigma around daytime napping is slowly disappearing, due to many studies conducted over time which has revealed the advantages from napping. Daytime naps are typically of short duration, and if you get the duration right, they are beneficial for you. However, there are certain disadvantages, such as sleep inertia, which might be disruptive to your sleep cycle, health and productivity.

The world’s biggest corporates/organizations, such as NASA, Nike, Google, Zappos, Procter & Gamble, Cisco, Ben & Jerry’s encourage napping in the workplace. Short naps or power naps have been found to boost mood, reduce stress and combat drowsiness before driving or using very heavy machinery.

In this article, we shall take a look at the positive and negative aspects of daytime naps, for adults, as well as children.

Advantages of daytime naps

Improves heart health

prevent-heart-diseasesDone right, daytime naps have been found to improve the health of the heart. Researchers in Switzerland monitored 3,462 volunteers over five years, asking them to write down their nap times and frequency, and compared this data to the incidence of cardiovascular disease or CVD.

The results were quite astonishing, as it was discovered that a few naps every week were possibly linked to the reduced risk of stroke and heart disease. However, napping more frequently did not have any effect on the CVD.

The data showed that occasional naps, up to twice a week, which led to reduction in incidents of heart failure, heart attack or stroke, was one of the advantages of daytime naps, as compared to not napping even once during the week.

People over 65 years did not show any major benefits from napping, probably due to underlying and complex age related health issues.

The research was observational, and does not necessarily prove cause-effect, even through the scientists did adjust for factors such as duration of night-time sleep, daytime sleepiness and so on. It was also speculated that the people who nap just once or maybe twice a week lead a more organized lifestyle, unlike others, which might be the reason for reduced CVD risk.

A Greek study done recently also suggested that daytime naps may reduce the risk of coronary mortality. The researchers found that participants who took daily naps had 37% less risk of contracting fatal heart conditions, considering the participant health, diet and occupation which affect the heart as well.

For those who enjoy daytime naps,  the results are encouraging!

Improve working memory

Improve working memoryWay back in 2005, NASA conducted a study to test the effectiveness napping had on different types of sleep cycles. The study revealed that participants who took naps had improvement in working memory. This enhanced their ability to remain focused on their task, while retaining the other tasks in their memory simultaneously. One of the big advantages of daytime naps  in the office/workplace is therefore beneficial to improving productivity.

Workplace napping thus helps to improve the employee efficiency, especially when the job at hand requires knowledge management and decision making using good judgment.

Consolidates memory

Daytime-NapFor students and professionals who have to remember and work with a lot of data, daytime naps can be highly advantageous. A study done by Gais & Bon showed that slow wave naps (sleep during which one does not dream) can allow the brain to process recently learned information/knowledge. This indicates that snoozing a little during the day is helpful, especially when you have a huge amount of data to memorize during a short period.

Memory is enhanced due to brief naps and problem solving abilities too increase as the skills to sift out the relevant information from extraneous data improves. REM sleep leads to making better logical connections between the ideas and words, thus consolidating memory.

Improve night-time rest

Improve night-time restAccording to a study published in the journal ‘Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 2001’, short 30 minute naps combined with 30 minutes moderate exercise improves sleep quality of elderly people, and improves their mental health. The researchers found that even the elderly participants who found it difficult to sleep at night rested better and fell asleep if they exercised and napped during the day.

Disadvantages of daytime naps

Naps do not replace regular sleep

Naps do not replace regular sleepShort daytime naps cannot be used to replace daily sleep, nor can they fulfill the daily sleep needed by people. One of the disadvantages of daytime naps  is that they cannot replace the recovery sleep for sleep deprived people, even if they nap for a while continuously over a few days.

May not increase alertness

May not increase alertnessThough naps have been found to be beneficial for memory, they do not increase the alertness levels. The NASA study found that after naps, the participants did not find it easy to focus attention. Concentration and alertness has been found to depend on the hours a person sleeps during 24 hours.

Sleep inertia

Sleep inertiaOne of the biggest disadvantages of daytime naps is the possibility of developing sleep inertia. Sleep inertia is the state of being groggy or disoriented after waking up from deep sleep. It usually dissipates within 30 minutes, so taking a nap right before you have to do some work which requires high alertness is not a good idea. Sleep inertia is usually seen to occur when people nap for more than 20 to 30 minutes. Short naps, lasting about 15 minutes seem to be the most beneficial, in terms of memory and productivity.

Might develop serious health problems

 Type 2 DiabetesWhile discussing the pros and cons of daytime naps, we have to point out the serious health problems which might arise, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. A study which was published in the year 2016 found that naps which lasted over an hour increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by about 50%! The same study found that long naps resulted in increasing risk of metabolic syndrome also by 50%. Another study concluded that longer naps led to the increased risk of cardiovascular diseases by an astounding 82%.

Lowers life expectancy

Daytime-NapThough more studies are needed to establish the link between napping and life expectancy, one study found that napping for more than one hour or 60 minutes frequently, led to 27% lower life expectancy, and frequent short naps led to 7% decrease in life expectancy.

Worsens insomnia

insomniaIf you have insomnia problems or have poor quality of sleep, taking long naps would worsen your problem. A Pittsburgh University study revealed that when participants tried to catch up on their sleep in the daytime, it actually led to worsening their insomnia. This pattern could only be broken by eliminating naps as well as addressing the underlying issues which prevented them from sleeping at night.

Reduced cognitive functioning

cognitive therapyBrief naps which last for 15 minutes or even less than that can enhance cognitive functioning. But long naps have a completely opposite effect. Sleeping more than 45 minutes can result in sleep inertia after waking up. This grogginess/disorientation can lead to the inability to perform tasks which involve memory recall or complex brain functioning.

Factors which lead to the benefits of daytime naps

Timing

Daytime-NapIn the discussion of pros and cons of daytime naps, we must mention that timing of naps is the most important factor to reap the benefits of daytime napping. The naps should be timed according to the circadian rhythm. To recover from factors which disrupt your body’s biological clock such as jet lag, changing time zones, shift work and insomnia, short daytime naps can help to get the body back in rhythm.

For optimal benefits from napping, you should nap in the early afternoon, between 2-3 pm, when there is a minor ‘sleepiness’ peak.

When compared to sleeping more hours in the night or drinking caffeine as energy boost, it was found that a short afternoon nap with short sleep latency and greater amount of short wave sleep is enough to get people out of their afternoon energy trough. But napping outside the circadian rhythm may make you feel groggy.

So, when you hit rock bottom in the daytime, and feel extremely drowsy, grab a short nap to get back to work full of energy.

Longer period of wakefulness

Taking daytime naps after a long period of being awake has been shown to have greater benefits. In a normal person’s routine, 16 hours of being awake leads to tiredness and the desire to rest/sleep. The need to sleep for a while may arise sooner in people who work in night shifts or have problems in sleeping.

Nap frequency

Daytime-NapsHabitual nappers usually have more refreshing naps than those who nap very rarely. Those who are in the habit of taking naps have shown reduction in body temperature prior to the nap, and also have lighter sleep, which means they do not undergo sleep inertia.

Nap duration

Naps which extend from 10 to 20 minutes are considered to be best, as the reduced sleep time does not cause sleep inertia, and workers can get back to their jobs even as the sleep pressure reduces. Short daytime naps are thus most suited for workplaces.

Children and napping

Daytime-NapParents need to know the pros and cons of daytime naps  for children. Taking naps are natural for many children, while many others object to this interruption to playtime. Children are more accustomed to daytime naps when it is a family custom, and parents and other family members rest after having lunch. Children like to imitate adults, and if they see the adults around them alert and awake, they also tend to avoid naps in the day. However, are daytime naps beneficial for kids? What should be the duration of naps for children?

Daytime naps’ benefits for children

They recover their energy

They recover their energyThis is a well-known fact, but still it is worth repeating. Children are bursting with energy and are restless and naughty, expending their energy throughout the day. They need to nap as this would give them rest and help to replenish their lost energy. Children spend their energy in cognitive learning, which demands energy. A short, 30 minutes daytime nap after school would help to restore their energy spent in thinking and learning.

Acts as mood booster

There are many benefits for children when they nap, including their mind state. Naps release their tension and reduce anxiety. Short breaks in their routine means they are less exhausted. When they sleep for a little while, it removes their fatigue, and they eat better and sleep better too, at night.

Strengthens their learning and memory

Strengthens their learning and memorySimilar to adults, children’s memory also benefits from a nap. The neurological processes occurring in children’s brains to ‘process’ information  is very important as their brains are molded in childhood. They can memorize well after a nap and absorb things better. When children have a lucid mind, they can learn things faster as well.

Can daytime naps be bad for children

Counterproductive if the naps are long

Counterproductive if the naps are longVery long naps taken by children are as counterproductive as in adults. Naps which are longer than half an hour may hamper the nighttime sleep of children. Children may begin to habitually sleep late, which would mean that they wake up late in the morning, or have to get and go to school without getting adequate sleep. This makes them unable to concentrate in school.

They may get headaches

If children have the genetic predisposition, they may suffer from hypnic headaches, which are seen mostly in older people. The intensity of this type of headaches is moderate, but then the benefits of napping are erased due to the headache.

Might spread/intensify COPD

chronic obstructive pulmonary diseaseChildren who suffer from COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are asked not to nap, as it is believed that napping would obstruct normal breathing. The consequence would be constant fatigue, poor oxygenation and respiratory failure.

Napping is essential for some people as they function better when they take short naps. They feel refreshed and their brain functions better. If you don’t feel sleepy during the daytime, then you probably do not need to nap. Shift workers may indulge in a brief nap to avoid drowsiness behind the wheel. The key to daytime naps benefits is to keep them short and nap to refresh not to catch up on sleep.

If you feel the need to take many naps during the day, then you may have an underlying reason such as diabetes or depression and so on. You should visit a doctor and get a complete health check-up as your napping habits could actually help to expose a serious health condition.