The Health Benefits of Napping

You may have hated them when you were in kindergarten, but naps can be a great benefit to living a healthier lifestyle. Taking a daily sleep break can help your blood pressure, put you in a better mood, give you energy, and do a variety of other things which can only serve for some good.

Don’t think you can fit a nap into your day? Think again. Let’s take a look at what exactly a nap can do for you and just how much sleep you should be aiming toward when taking a siesta.

What is a Nap?

This is a question with an obvious initial answer, but a deeper explanation. A nap is a shorter bit of sleep than you would get during an overnight sleep cycle, sure, but what exactly is included in that sleep cycle, and how does it affect your body?

The Stages of Sleep

In order to see what a nap does, we first should take a look at how the different stages of sleep work. Depending on how much sleep you get during your nap, you may not hit each stage, so the benefit between, say, a 20-minute nap and a 90-minute nap can vary greatly.

There are two primary sleep zones: Non-rapid eye movement sleep and rapid eye movement sleep, referred to as NREM and REM sleep. NREM sleep is broken up into three separate stages, while REM sleep is its own special thing.

Stage One of NREM sleep is right as you begin to fall asleep. Your eyes are closed, but waking you would be no issue at all. Someone saying your name or bumping you could easily jolt you awake. This stage typically lasts between five and 10 minutes.

Stage Two is a bit deeper. In this stage, your heart rate starts to slow down and your body temperature is reduced, getting everything ready for the blissful deep sleep.

Hitting Stage Three takes it up a notch, or down, I suppose, because it’s when you’ve fallen into a deep sleep. At this point, your body begins to do all of its work, repairing itself, strengthening your immune system and generally doing good stuff.

Finally, you have REM sleep, which tends to kick in about 90 minutes after you’ve hit the hay. During REM sleep, your brain becomes very active, often causing you to dream. What exactly the body is doing in this phase isn’t particularly well documented, but we do know that, if you hit this point, you’re likely going to feel pretty rested.

Why Nap?

There is one very obvious benefit to taking a nap: An afternoon rest can give you the energy to keep going throughout the day. However, there’s quite a bit more to it than that. What about sleeping gives you energy, and what else does a nap do for you?

Recharging the Batteries

How rested you feel is entirely dependent on how much sleep you get. As we discussed, sleep comes in stages, and those stages cycle back and forth between NREM and REM sleep on about a 90-minute rotation. Working your nap to fit within those stages is important in order to feel rested.

A 20-minute nap, for instance, will get you into Stage Two. The lowered heart rate and cooling of the body can help you relax. This is a great nap to take after a stressful day, or in the middle of the day, in order to get you into a good mood for whatever remains.

A 20-minute nap, for instance, will get you into Stage Two. The lowered heart rate and cooling of the body can help you relax. This is a great nap to take after a stressful day, or in the middle of the day, in order to get you into a good mood for whatever remains.

A 90-minute nap can also leave you feel very rested, as you’ll have gone through the initial REM phase and kicked back into the start of the NREM stages. Doing this has given your body time to fully relax and rest up, making you feel far better than you may have before.

Waking up between these stages, however, could be an issue. Being woken in Stage Three of NREM sleep, for instance, can leave you feeling groggy, as your body had gone into deep sleep and your man wasn’t particularly active.

Using an alarm to hit your ideal nap time is important to get the most out of your rest.

Doing Your Heart Right

Taking naps on a regular basis helps keep your heart rate low, which also helps to reduce tension. This is excellent, and important, when it comes to keeping your heart healthy. One issues with not getting enough sleep is the impact it can have on your heart. Since blood pressure drops with sleep, getting enough of it keeps the blood pressure in check. Naps can help to shore up any lack of sleep you’re experiencing overnight.

Additionally, a British study showed that having even a single night of poor sleep can have an effect on your blood vessels, making them less flexible, thus making you more likely to suffer from heart issues dealing with blood flow. In short, sleep is good for your heart.

Staying Alert

Do you find yourself nodding off, or missing certain things, as the day progresses? If so, there’s a good chance a nap would do you some good. NASA performed a study on sleepy military pilots and astronauts and found some interesting results.

After taking a 40-minute nap, the test subjects found their performance to be improved by 34 percent and their alertness to have increased by 100 percent. What does this mean for you? It means taking a nap is going to help you keep your wits. If you’re taking a long drive and tend to get tired, a nap will help with that.

Increased Memory Retention

If you’ve just learned something, taking a nap can help you retain it, according to a study performed by a team of German neuropsychologists. Their testing showed that sleeping after learning something makes you five times more likely to remember it later on, rather than if you had just stayed a wake.

Helps You Lose Weight

This is a general sleep tip, but it certainly applies to napping, as well. Your appetite is based on a delicate balance of hormones, hormones which are released or inhibited based on the amount of sleep you’re getting. If you’re not sleeping enough, your body starts to release ghrelin, a hormone which makes you hungry, and releases lower levels of leptin, which makes you feel full.

Napping can help fix this by putting your hormones back into a balance which supports proper levels of eating. Getting those chemicals in check is one of the best ways to make sure you don’t find yourself gorging on a huge meal at the end of the day, or simply eating too much each time you sit down for a meal.

Better Judgment?

According to research performed at Hendrix College, being sleep deprived can grant an effect akin to being intoxicated. Much like the “beer goggles” effect, people who are too tired suffer from poor judgment, a lack of impulse control and egregious social and sexual behavior. For this, you can thank the effect sleep has on your frontal lobe. A lack of sleep really messes with your brain. Napping before heading out for a night on the town could be an important factor in whether or not you regret whatever goes down.

Higher Sex Drive

If you’re not sleeping enough, your body isn’t producing enough testosterone. This goes for men and women. A study performed by the University of Chicago showed people who sleep less than five hours each day have a lower level of testosterone. As much as 10 to 15 percent lower, to be precise. In men, this could mean erectile disorders and lower sperm counts. For both sexes, it could be a lower sex drive. If you’re not getting five each night, napping can help fill the gaps.

Avoiding Sickness

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism revealed several interesting things about napping. Several we’ve already read about, but one in particular is of interest. They tested hormone levels in the bodies of people who purposely didn’t get enough sleep and found that a lack of sleep lowers levels of interleukin-6, which is a protein that helps fight off viruses in your body. However, they found that those test subjects who had napped did not see a decrease. So, even if you’re not getting enough sleep at night, a nap during the day can keep you feeling much healthier.

Makes for a Better Mood

When studying toddlers, researchers found that kids who don’t take naps end up being grumpy adults. Additionally, they discovered toddlers who missed their naps became anxious and disinterested in what was happening. This also holds true for adults. A separate study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found that a lack of sleep decreases your self control, making you more likely to become irritable and do things you may not normally do, like yell at somebody or get into a fight.

Keeps Memories Straight

Have you ever seen one of those movies in which false memories are implanted into people? If you’re not getting enough sleep, you could be doing that to yourself. Research performed by the University of California at Irvine revealed an interesting effect the lack of sleep can cause, namely a propensity to add imaginary details to photographs.

?In the study, those who didn’t get enough sleep took details from information they read after viewing a photo and somehow incorporated them into the memories of the image they had viewed earlier. This didn’t happen to those who got enough sleep. The conclusion drawn by researchers is that a lack of sleep can mix up the information you take in when you’re too tired.

Helps Dodge Diabetes

Those who don’t get enough sleep are at a higher risk of developing diabetes, a study from the University of Chicago shows. The research included the examination of blood of men who slept different amounts over a period of four days. Those who were only allowed to sleep 4.5 hours each night had more fatty acids remain in the blood stream. These can lead to high blood sugar levels,

which can cause the disease to develop. On the other hand, those who slept 8.5 hours didn’t have this issue. The study also suggests the effect can be reversed by more sleep.

Makes Workouts Worthwhile

We have established the fact that sleep is important for your health. It is also important, however, if you’re trying to hit your physical peak. According to research done at Stanford University, athletes who slept a reasonable amount ran faster for longer times and had lower heart rates than those who did not. In general, they also experienced better workouts. Not sleeping enough, the researchers said, can cause issues with reaction times, among other things.

Combats Dementia

Yet another study, this time from Johns Hopkins University, suggests not getting enough sleep can have detrimental effects on the function of your brain over the years. Specifically, people participating in the study who didn’t get enough sleep had more B-Amyloid in the brains. B-Amyloid is associated with Alzheimer’s disease. It seems, they determined, that while you sleep, your body works to remove B-Amyloid from your brain, keeping everything tip top.

Beauty Sleep is a Real Thing?

Afraid of lines in your skin? Better get to napping. Research from the University Hospitals Case Medical Center show people who don’t get enough sleep are more prone to suffer from skin issues. Not resting enough can lead to fine lines, uneven skin tone and loose skin, as the skin won’t have time to repair itself while you sleep.

Fixes All-Nighter Issues

If you stayed up all night studying, playing video games or partying, you’re not likely to get a good amount of sleep the next day, especially if you have to work or something similar. The answer to this is pretty simple: Take a nap. In the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, a published study showed two half-hour naps throughout the day after an all-nighter went a long way in helping to fix stress-hormone levels.

Those test subjects who didn’t nap found themselves feeling far more disoriented than their better-rested counterparts. The nappers were also healthier, again showing that even small amounts of sleep can have a major impact on our lifestyles.

Why Not Nap?

We’ve seen how naps can be a huge help, but this isn’t a hard and fast rule. In fact, there are some things to keep in mind when napping which could lead to bad experiences. Sleeping too much or too little, as far as a nap is concerned, can be detrimental to the rest of your day, for instance. They can also interfere in other ways. Let’s take a look.

Sleep Inertia

Where napping is concerned, it’s important to keep in mind the different stages of the sleep cycle when you’re planning your rest. If you wake up during the wrong stages, you’re likely to find yourself feeling groggy and disoriented. Waking up during Phase Three, for instance, is not a good thing. Phase Three is one of the deepest levels of sleep, and waking up at this point can confuse the mind momentarily.

By the same token, waking up during Phase Two (about a 20-minute nap) works out well since you weren’t in too deep of a sleep for there to be an issue. The same can be said for waking during the REM stage of sleep (about a 90-minute nap). Since your mind is active during REM sleep, waking up isn’t all that bad since your mind will already be active. It can be a little disconcerting if you were mid dream, but not so much as waking up from a very deep sleep.

Further Sleep Issues

If you have issues falling asleep at night, a nap may not work out in your favor. Folks who suffer from insomnia or generally have poor sleep can experience greater sleep issues when a nap gets thrown into the mix. Oftentimes, fighting insomnia and such is dependent on your body being tired, and a nap can remove that effect. This isn’t the case for most people, particularly those who maintain a regular sleep schedule.

Heart Issues

A single study out there has suggested naps can increase the chances of heart failure for those who are already at risk. This is somewhat county to what multiple other studies have shown, but it’s worthing taking into consideration as it seems to be more specific to those people who already have a history of heart disease.

Public Opinion

In spite of the quite obvious health benefits associated with napping there is definitely something of a stigma associated with it for many people. In this busy world we live in, especially in the United States of America, finding the time for a nap can be exceedingly difficult. Because of this, many people see those who take naps as being lazy. People who work hard can’t nap, right?

Additionally, some may say it’s a sign of having no ambition and low standards. Frankly, this is absurd. Many modern companies have begun to allow for a nap time. One notable company is Google. Google not only allows employees to nap in order to increase productivity, it gives them a space to do so. They have on their campus nap pods, which are designed to give employees a private, comfortable and peaceful space for them to rest during the work day.

One final stigma, and this is one many people hold, is that naps are only for children, or people who are either sick or old. Sure, sleeping while you’re sick can help you heal, and napping is important for the development of children, but that doesn’t mean its effects are negated just because you’re health and a bit older. Napping is good for everyone.

How Can I Nap?

As with any kind of sleep, there are certain things you can do which will help you napping situation. Good sleeping habits and the right environment are probably the two most important factors when it comes to making sure your sleep is both restful and production.

The Purpose of the Bedroom

One of the most important things you can do to make sure your naps, and your sleep in general, goes as planned, is to make sure your body knows what you are doing in your bedroom. Your bedroom should be used for two things: sleep and sex.

By keeping this in mind, you begin to train your body to know exactly what’s going to happen once your head hits that pillow. If you hang out in your room a lot, watching television and such, it becomes an active place. Your body won’t be able to differentiate it from any other room in your home, and that can be a real problem.

Winding Down Properly

If you want to take a nap, there are certain things you shouldn’t do before going to sleep. In particular, you should avoid bright screens and bright lights. Depending on where you’re napping, this isn’t always possible, but there are some things you can do to help. Don’t look at your phone, for instance, just before napping. The bright screen can serve to make your brain more active, which is not good.

If you need a way to wind down a bit before napping or sleeping, try reading a book. Sure, this also requires some mental activity, but it’s a less intense sort of action, without the bright lights and moving parts. It’s more of a soothing sensation which will help guide you into a restful mindset.

Keeping Things Cool

During the second phase of sleep, your body begins to cool down as you drift deeper into slumber. You can aid this along by sleeping in a cool room. If you find yourself having trouble falling asleep, turning on the fan or air conditioner can go a long way toward reaching the later stages of sleep faster, thus making your nap more effective.

Setting a Schedule?

Setting sleep times is another way you can train your body to quickly and efficiently fall asleep. This is more important for your nighttime rests, but incorporating a nap into your daily routine can be a good idea, should time allow. Setting aside 20 to 30 minutes after getting home from work, for instance, can help you wind down and release any tension you had built up. If your body comes to expect this, you won’t find yourself wasting time trying to fall asleep. You’ll get home, lay down, and wake up 20 minutes later feeling rested and refreshed.

Creating a Proper Environment

Aside from keeping the air cool, there are a couple things you can do in your room to help the napping go along better. First off, get rid of any light. Of course, I’m not referring to lamps and such, but light you can’t control. Using blackout curtains can help keep the sunlight from bothering you while trying to sleep during the day. Secondly, consider some sleep aids. Many people like to use white noise machines, or have some sort of device on which makes a steady sound, such as a fan. I find natural sounds work well for me, such as devices which can simulate the sounds of a rainstorm, or a train running along the tracks.

Getting Comfortable

Though your nap is going to be shorter than the sleep you’ll have overnight, you should work to make sure it’s comfortable. Sleeping with good pillows on a good mattress means your rest will be more productive, and you’ll wake up feeling better. A poor mattress can leave you with aches and pains. The same can happen with a bad pillow, or bad pillow placement. Napping is meant to both fill in the gaps where your normal rest isn’t cutting it and to help you feel more refreshed, but having equipment which works to counter that effect isn’t doing you any favors.

What’s the Best Way to Nap?

There are multiple ways to nap, and each can have a different effect on you. Sometimes a nap may not be your best option. Here are a few things to think about before you decide to shut your eyes for a while.

The Caffeine Nap

Michael Breus, a sleep expert, suggests this interesting option for an afternoon pick-me-up. Just before taking a nap, drink a cup of coffee. Make sure the nap only lasts about 20 minutes. When you’re waking up, the caffeine should be kicking in. The combination of the nap and caffeine ought to have you feeling energized and ready to take on the rest of your day. Breus calls this the “napalatte.” Clever.

Going the Distance

If you can swing a 90-minute nap, you’re going to have the best chance of making the most of your time. The full sleep cycle takes about 90 minutes. This gets you through all three stages of NREM sleep, then into REM sleep, before it starts all over again. Waking up during the REM stage of sleep, or just after it, is great, as it will allow your body to get a good amount of deep sleep, but still be active enough to not make you feel groggy throughout the rest of your day.

Skip the Nap and Go for a Walk

Breus has another suggestion you may want to consider. During the afternoon downtime, when you’re feeling a bit tired after lunch, head outside and take a short walk. Not only does this get your blood pumping, helping you feel energized, it stops the body from producing melatonin, which is a chemical that aids sleep. The body creates melatonin once it starts to cool down, and hopping out into the sun for a little warmth halts that effect.

The Super Short Nap

While aiming for the 20 to 30-minute mark is optimal for a short nap, even one as short as 10 minutes can be productive. The likelihood of actually falling asleep during this time period is slim, but the simple act of closing your eyes and getting into a relaxed state can begin the process of releasing tension, particularly if you haven’t been getting enough sleep. A study released in 2002 corroborates this idea.

Just Don’t Nap?

Are you tired because you’re not getting enough sleep at night? If your slumber is being distorted because of insomnia, a nap is not the way to go. Naps are great for people who didn’t get enough sleep because they went to bed too late or had to wake up too early, but for those who have trouble falling asleep, taking a nap can make you feel even more alert when you’re ready to fall asleep each night.

Insomnia sufferers should look to alternative methods of relaxation, and should look to exercise and other suggested sleep tips to see if that may help them finally fall asleep quickly and be able to sleep through the night.

The Argument for Napping


When all is said and done, naps are a great thing. The health benefits are fantastic, giving you strength, helping you fight diseases, keeping you alert and focused. One can say naps should be a normal part of everyday life for everyone, though it’s sometimes hard to find time to do so. Many countries around the world encourage the mid-day nap for various reasons.

The idea of the siesta began as a way to get away from the heat during the middle of the day. In China, a nap is typically taken after lunch for up to an hour. Article 43 of their constitution states “working people in the People’s Republic of China have the right to rest,” and many consider this to be a constitutional right to a nap. 

No matter how you look at it, there’s nothing wrong with a nap, so long as it’s done the right way. Set aside any stigmas you may associate with the nap, climb into bed and find out for yourself how wonderful an afternoon rest can be.

About the author

Brenda Bostwick

Brenda has over a decade of experience in the industry and is the lead editor for Sleep Buffs. She’s also a sleep enthusiast and loves to weed out the good from the bad when it comes to sleep products, and she’s seen her fair share of bad ones! Brenda knows how important sleep health is and through Sleep Buffs she hopes to share that passion with visitors so they can find the products that are right for them and rest assured they are making the right choice.

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