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Napping is Healthy—But Not for Everyone

By Ashley Reaver, MS, RD, CSSD, July 31, 2019

 

napping-benefits-sleep

Afraid that your naps or sleeping in on the weekend may not be good for you? Well, not only can they help you make up for lost sleep, but research suggests that they may also be beneficial for cognitive function, memory, and (perhaps counterintuitively) help you fall asleep at night. The next time someone comments on your napping habit or forces you up early on a Saturday morning, you’ll be able to back up your extra shut eye with science!

 

What constitutes a nap?

A nap is defined as a short period of sleep, typically during the day. The most popular time for napping is between 1 and 4pm, which conveniently coincides with the “post-lunch slump,” but they can certainly take place at any time during the day or night. While any snooze outside of extended nighttime sleeping can technically constitute a nap, most research says anything from 10-90 minutes of shuteye qualifies as a nap.

 

When is it a good idea to nap?

If you have a tough time sleeping

If you struggle with a midday energy slump due to inadequate sleep, napping for even just 10 minutes can help to reduce feelings of sleepiness. Research also suggests that taking a short nap can help you to fall asleep faster at night, since being overly tired can make falling asleep more difficult.1,2

If you’re a student

Taking a one-time 60-90 minute nap after hours of studying or practicing a new skill can actually help you retain new information! Naps help to increase memory consolidation, which is the process of converting short term memories into long term ones. Short term memories are more fleeting and are less likely to be retained. Rewarding yourself with a post-study-session sleep may be the missing ingredient to your study habits.3,4,5

If you’re an older adult

As we age, our brain ages along with us. In a process called “cognitive aging,” cognitive functions like concentration, thinking, and memory can become more difficult. Research suggests that a 30-60-minute nap can help with concentration, critical thinking, memory recall and retention, and general age-related cognitive decline.6

If you're an athlete

Sleep is a critical part of physical recovery, and naps certainly have a role in ensuring we hit our sleep needs. But this gets us to our next point...

 

Who should try to avoid napping?

Athletes

Naps over 30 minutes can cause grogginess, reduced alertness, and impaired performance immediately after you wake up. So it’s recommended to wait 30-45 minutes before activity if your nap is over half an hour. 

People with healthy nighttime sleep habits

People that sleep more than 9 hours per night should not feel particularly tired during each day. If you sleep well during the night but still feel sleepy during the day, it may be worth investigating sleep quality issues. 

Please consult your doctor if you often experience involuntary naps or micro-sleeps. There might be an underlying health condition that promotes longer and more frequent napping. 



Can naps help recover lost sleep?

The process of making up lost sleep is called “recovery sleep.” Sleep deprivation can have negative impacts on cognition, the ability to fall asleep, immune health, and metabolic biomarkers. Individuals that average less than 6 hours of sleep per night should consider incorporating recovery sleep in order to improve metabolic biomarkers and to support performance, immune, cognitive, energy, and anti-aging goals. 

 

What are the different kinds of recovery sleep?

Catch-up sleep

Catch-up sleep is a recovery sleep of at least 10 hours in a night. For example, sleeping more hours on the weekends can help to make up for a lack of sleep on weekdays.7 If you stick to a strict schedule on the weekends, give yourself a break—taking an extra hour or two of sleep each weekend day is actually beneficial for your health!

Banking sleep

As opposed to catch-up sleep, banking sleeps helps to offset the detrimental effects of upcoming sleep deprivation.8,9 If you anticipate short sleeps (before travel, before early morning race starts, or before having a baby), schedule in a deposit to your sleep bank!

Shift workers may also be familiar with sleep deprivation, as their daily sleep schedule can fluctuate, resulting in negative health effects. Shift work has been associated with poor metabolic biomarkers, likely in part due to prolonged periods of sleep deprivation. A good option: catch up on sleep on off days to reduce the effects of sleep deprivation during work days.10

Other potential benefits of recovery sleep (either 10 hour catch-up sleep or banking sleep) for those that are sleep deprived:


  • Decreased inflammation caused by sleep restriction by lowering levels of pro-inflammatory factors.11
  • Reduction in the effects of lack of sleep on your performance, alertness, immune system, metabolism and quality of life.7,8
  • Improved resting metabolic rate, insulin sensitivity and "hunger hormone" levels.11
  • Reduced sleepiness and fatigue caused by sleep deprivation or restriction.12

Please keep in mind however, that catch-up sleep does not result in full recovery from continuous lack of sleep. Try to consistently achieve 7-8 hours of sleep per night every day.

Are you curious if napping should be part of your regular routine? We test 42 blood biomarkers to help you reach your goals. See if napping is the right recommendation for you.

See how your sleep habits are affecting your body

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References

[1] Faraut, B., Léger, D., Medkour, T., Dubois, A., Bayon, V., Chennaoui, M., & Perrot, S. (2015). Napping reverses increased pain sensitivity due to sleep restriction. PloS one, 10(2), e0117425
[2] Saletin, J. M., Hilditch, C. J., Dement, W. C., & Carskadon, M. A. (2017). Short daytime naps briefly attenuate objectively measured sleepiness under chronic sleep restriction. Sleep, 40(9).
[3] Korman, M., Dagan, Y., & Karni, A. (2015). Nap it or leave it in the elderly: a nap after practice relaxes age-related limitations in procedural memory consolidation. Neuroscience letters, 606, 173-176.
[4] Scullin, M. K., Fairley, J., Decker, M. J., & Bliwise, D. L. (2017). The effects of an afternoon nap on episodic memory in young and older adults. Sleep, 40(5), zsx035.
[5] Brooks, A., & Lack, L. (2006). A brief afternoon nap following nocturnal sleep restriction: which nap duration is most recuperative?. Sleep, 29(6), 831-840.
[6] Lin, J. F., Li, F. D., Chen, X. G., He, F., Zhai, Y. J., Pan, X. Q., ... & Yu, M. (2018). Association of postlunch napping duration and night-time sleep duration with cognitive impairment in Chinese elderly: a cross-sectional study. BMJ open, 8(12), e023188.
[7] Oh, Y. H., Kim, H., Kong, M., Oh, B., & Moon, J. H. (2019). Association between weekend catch-up sleep and health-related quality of life of Korean adults. Medicine, 98(13).
[8] Arnal, P. J., Sauvet, F., Leger, D., Van Beers, P., Bayon, V., Bougard, C., ... & Chennaoui, M. (2015). Benefits of sleep extension on sustained attention and sleep pressure before and during total sleep deprivation and recovery. Sleep, 38(12), 1935-1943.
[9] Rupp, T. L., Wesensten, N. J., Bliese, P. D., & Balkin, T. J. (2009). Banking sleep: realization of benefits during subsequent sleep restriction and recovery. Sleep, 32(3), 311-321.
[10] Patterson, P. D., Ghen, J. D., Antoon, S. F., Martin-Gill, C., Guyette, F. X., Weiss, P. M., ... & Buysse, D. J. (2019). Does evidence support “banking/extending sleep” by shift workers to mitigate fatigue, and/or to improve health, safety, or performance? A systematic review. Sleep health.
[11] Pejovic, S., Basta, M., Vgontzas, A. N., Kritikou, I., Shaffer, M. L., Tsaoussoglou, M., ... & Chrousos, G. P. (2013). Effects of recovery sleep after one work week of mild sleep restriction on interleukin-6 and cortisol secretion and daytime sleepiness and performance. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 305(7), E890-E896.
[12] Buxton, O. M., Cain, S. W., O’Connor, S. P., Porter, J. H., Duffy, J. F., Wang, W., ... & Shea, S. A. (2012). Adverse metabolic consequences in humans of prolonged sleep restriction combined with circadian disruption. Science translational medicine, 4(129), 129ra43-129ra43.
[13] Faraut, B., Boudjeltia, K. Z., Dyzma, M., Rousseau, A., David, E., Stenuit, P., ... & Kerkhofs, M. (2011). Benefits of napping and an extended duration of recovery sleep on alertness and immune cells after acute sleep restriction. Brain, behavior, and immunity, 25(1), 16-24.