When even the venti-est caffeine concoction just isn’t cutting it, sneaking in a quick catnap might seem like the best way to refuel. But could a midday snooze be throwing our whole nighttime sleep cycle out of whack?
Siesta Smarter — Why It Matters
Need sleep? There’s a nap for that. Research suggests napping can add more than some much-needed R & R, including improved mood and alertness throughout the day Temporal placement of a nap for alertness: contributions of circadian phase and prior wakefulness. Dinges DF, Orne MT, Whitehouse WG, et al. Unit for Experimental Psychiatry, Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital, Philadelphia 19139-2798. Newsletter of the Association of Sleep Disorders Centers (New York), 1987 Aug;10(4):313-29. Daytime sleep accelerates cardiovascular recovery after psychological stress. Brindle, R.C., Conklin, S.M. Department of Psychology and Neuroscience Program, Allegheny College, Meadville, PA. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 2011 Feb 26. . But how long is too long? One study found people who take daily 10 to 20-minute naps wake up more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed than those who spend an hour or more in a midday slumber Good sleep, bad sleep! The role of daytime naps in healthy adults. Dhand R, Sohal H. Harry S. Truman VA Hospital, Columbia, Missouri, USA. Current Opinion of Pulmonary Medicine. 2006 Nov;12 (6):379-82. .
The reason why: Sleep happens in stages, and during deep sleep (when dreaming occurs), our brains have a harder time waking up. Research shows that due to sleep inertia during the Rapid Eye Movement stage of sleep, dozing off for a 25 to 85 minute nap may even make it more difficult to stay asleep at night The effects of napping on cognitive functioning. Lovato N, Lack L. School of Psychology, Flinders University, Adelaide, SA, Australia. Progress in Brain Research, 2010;185:155-66. . Some suggest those 10 to 20 minute habitual naps (as opposed to planned or emergency naps) are easier to get up from because the body is trained to wake after a certain amount of time.
Snooze Clues — The Answer/Debate
The secret to napping is strategy. If we snooze later in the day, it’s possible for the body to confuse napping with literally calling it a night. One study found that the closer we nap to our bedtime, the harder it is to wake up and have a good night’s rest when we actually want to hit the hay Subjective and objective napping and sleep in older adults: are evening naps "bad" for nighttime sleep? Dautovich ND, McCrae CS, Rowe M. Department of Psychology, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32610, USA. . Scientists suggest leaving at least four hours between naptime and bedtime to keep sleep disruption to a minimum (at least for adults) Effects of sleep inertia after daytime naps vary with executive load and time of day. Groeger JA, Lo JC, Burns CG, et al. School of Applied Psychology, University College Cork, Distillery Fields, North Mall, Cork, Ireland. Behavioral Neuroscience, 2011 Apr; 125(2): 252-60. Self-reported napping and duration and quality of sleep in the lifestyle interventions and independence for elders pilot study. Picarsic JL, Glynn NW, Taylor CA, et al. Department of Epidemiology, Graduate School of Public He./alth, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213, USA. Journal of American Geriatric Sociology, 2008 Sep; 56(9): 1674-80. .
So go ahead and sleep like a baby; in general, those who regularly nap seem to ward off daytime sleepiness better than those who trudge through the day without a quick snooze The effects of napping on cognitive functioning. Lovato N, Lack L. School of Psychology, Flinders University, Adelaide, SA, Australia. Progress in Brain Research, 2010;185:155-66. . For an instant energy boost that won't throw off our bedtime, skip the five-hour energy and try taking a quick power nap (5-15 minutes!) The effects of napping on cognitive functioning. Lovato N, Lack L. School of Psychology, Flinders University, Adelaide, SA, Australia. Progress in Brain Research, 2010;185:155-66. . Just remember to keep it short and sweet, and far enough away from when we actually hit the sack.
What's your favorite time to get your nap on?
Additional research by Roxanne Pinto.