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Much Ado About Napping

Nap (noun) - a short sleep, especially during the day:

The nap is a topic that divides; some swear by napping as a way to reset, relax and recharge, while others find a nap makes them feel groggy, and impacts their night-time sleep.

But not all naps are created equal. By understanding the types of nap, you can learn which help support your body clock and energy levels.

Types of Nap

Naps can be categorised based on their function. By knowing what you hope to gain from a nap, you’re a step closer to making them work for you:

  • Recovery Nap: Lack of good quality sleep the previous night can lead to tiredness the next day. You might then take a recovery nap the following day to compensate for the sleep loss.

  • Prophylactic Nap: This is a taken to prepare for sleep loss, i.e. before its actually happened. A good example of this is night shift workers scheduling naps before their night shifts in order to prepare and prevent sleepiness while working.

  • Appetitive Nap: These are naps are taken purely for the enjoyment of napping. Taking a nap can be relaxing and can also boost mood and energy.

  • Fulfilment Nap: Young children need more sleep than adults. Parents often schedule what can be termed fulfilment napsinto the daily routines of infants and toddlers, and can also occur spontaneously in children of all ages.

  • Essential Nap: When you are unwell, sleep is deployed to help you recover. You have an increased need for sleep when ill because your immune system responds to fight infection and promote healing, and that requires extra energy. Naps taken while unwell or recovering are considered essential.

How Long Should I Nap?

The length of a nap is a significant factor in its success. When humans fall asleep, they move through a series of sleep stages. Studies have shown that five-minute naps are too short to be beneficial, as it’s not long enough to move into the sleep stages sufficiently.

Sleeping for 30 minutes or move gives the body enough time to enter deep sleep. But napping for too long, or waking up from deep sleep, can result in grogginess.

Considering those findings, the best nap length should be between the two – long enough to be refreshing but not so long that you fall into deep sleep. therefore, naps lasting 10 to 20 minutes are actually considered the ideal length. These are sometimes referred to as ‘power naps’, because they provide the benefits of a nap without leaving the napper with that groggy feeling afterwards.

There are exceptions of course; don’t limit sleep when you are unwell, and remember that children require more sleep than adults.

Pros of Napping

Homeostatic sleep drive is the technical term for the feeling of pressure to sleep. The longer it is since you’ve slept, the higher the pressure to sleep. When you wake from a good night’s sleep, your homeostatic sleep drive is low. Throughout the day, that pressure gradually increases, resulting in feeling sleepy in the evening/at bedtime. Sleeping at night resets that sleep pressure, ready for the cycle to begin again the next day.

Napping during the day reduces that build-up of sleep pressure, which can help you feel more awake and increase performance. As a result, napping can:

  • Reduce the feeling of sleepiness and boost energy

  • Improve the brain’s ability to learn

  • Aid memory

  • Help regulate emotions

Napping Cons

It is worth remembering though, that napping during the daytime can interfere with your night-time sleep. It is therefore preferable to take any daytime naps earlier in the day. Those that have trouble falling or staying asleep at night (e.g. those with insomnia) may want to avoid napping altogether.

Nap with the best of ‘em:

Follow these simple steps for the best napping experience:

  • Time it: Studies show that the optimum nap length for most people is around 10-20 minutes. Beat that post-nap groggy feeling by limiting your nap.

  • Nap early: Late naps can affect your ability to fall asleep at bedtime.

  • Choose your space: Nap in a comfortable space that is dark, cool, and quiet.

  • Quiet your mind: Worrying will keep you awake. If you’re having trouble letting go of thoughts, try writing a to-do list, practicing breathing exercises or journaling before you nap. These can help you fall asleep more quickly.

  • Remember why: Some find it easier to fall asleep for a nap when they remember the benefits they will receive when they wake up (improved energy, memory and emotional wellbeing).

NB: This article is for information purposes, and does not constitute medical advice. If you are experiencing difficulty sleeping, or have symptoms which prevent you from sleeping well, you should contact your medical practitioner.


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