Sleep It Off: Is Napping Really Good For You?

June 2, 2015

When we were toddlers, nap time was forced upon us, and we wanted none of it. Now, many of us would do bad things just for a 10 minute snooze. Ah, adulthood.

But should you be catching catnaps during the day? There’s a lot of contradictory information out there: They supposedly disrupt sleep cycles, they give us energy, they increase our metabolism. So what’s the truth?

On one hand, according to the National Sleep Foundation, a 20- to 30-minute nap can “help improve mood, alertness and performance.” Since most of us are not getting those much-needed eight hours of sleep per night, naps help us catch up. Naps don’t act as a substitute for our regular night of sleep, but every little bit of shut eye helps the body rest.

These kind of short naps are called “stage 2 naps,” and they allow the brain to rest and recharge. If you have time for a more lengthy, luxurious nap, though, take it—it may help that part of your brain that is able to memorize and make decisions on the fly function better throughout the day. When you sleep more than a half-hour, you’re also getting REM sleep, and that’s always a good thing.

That’s the conventional wisdom. But a more recent study showed that regular napping might actually be bad for you. The study, which followed 16,374 British volunteers over the course of 13 years, found that “those who reported napping less than an hour a day had a 14 percent increased risk of dying. And if they reported napping for more than an hour, the risk went up by 32 percent.” Experts, however, noted that the increased risk of dying might not be tied to the naps themselves—the reasons why the volunteers took naps likely had more to do with the increased risk of death.

The verdict? If you’re sleep deprived, then go ahead, take a nap! A 20 to 30 minute nap is generally viewed as a totally healthy way to refresh yourself. Plus, a little catnap will keep you from chugging lattes and energy drinks to stay awake.

But if you’re getting the recommended amount of sleep and you’re still feeling tired, you may want to pay closer to attention to your diet. Are you eating enough fruits and veggies, complex carbs and lean protein? What about your lifestyle—Are you exercising? Are you stressed out all the time?

The bottom line here is everything in moderation. If you’re eating a moderately healthy diet, getting some physical activity, and sleeping enough at night, you shouldn’t feel the urge to nap every day. But if you’re tossing and turning at night, as long as you don’t pull a Sleeping Beauty, there’s no reason you can’t catch a few zzzs during the day.

Illustration by Karley Koenig

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Gina Vaynshteyn

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