Napping has sometimes been seen as a habit of laziness, meant for people too free or too apathetic to stay awake during the entire day. But that viewpoint is limited; napping comes with a number of important benefits, and scientists are still discovering more benefits every year. Recent studies have confirmed that there are incredible health benefits to napping, especially when done on a consistent basis.
So what is the evidence that napping is healthy?
According to research, a “NASA Nap” of around 20 minutes can greatly increase alertness. A nap of just 26 minutes, for example, was enough to boost the alertness of participants by a whopping 54 percent. In a demanding job that requires active focus, napping could easily boost performance by 50 percent or more-especially if the employee in question didn’t get a sufficient amount of sleep the night before. Alertness is almost never a bad thing, and 26 minutes isn’t much time to spend boosting it.
Perception and Performance
In a study published in Nature Neuroscience, scientists investigated the effects of napping on perception and performance by measuring the performance of a simple cognitive task four times over the course of a day. Performance of participants tended to deteriorate with each test, with a couple of exceptions; if a participant took a 30-minute nap, the deterioration, on average, came to a halt. Their next test yielded a similar score as their previous test. If the participant took a 60-minute nap, the performance decline reversed (i.e., performance improved). In fact, if the nap was of high enough quality, the effects were comparable to a full night of sleep.
Learning and Memory
According to researcher Sara Mednick, taking a high-quality nap between 20 and 60 minutes in length gives a person enough time to enter stage two sleep, which could give them a significant boost in memory and their ability to learn. After taking the nap, they’ll find it easier to acquire new information, and information they’ve acquired recently will be easier to recall. The caveat here is that if one naps for longer than 60 minutes, one could slip into rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is the deepest phase of sleep; waking up in the middle of REM stage is associated with feelings of tiredness and grogginess.
Research suggests that napping can count toward one’s overall sleep “total.” Researchers recommend getting between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night; when that recommended amount isn’t hit, individuals tend to suffer cognitive performance decline, including lower alertness, poorer learning and memory, and poorer cognitive performance all around. There’s also evidence to suggest that chronic levels of missed sleep can lead to more serious conditions, including both mental and physical health complications.
It’s hard to get that recommended 7 to 9 hours every night, but if napping presents an alternative way to add to that total, it could represent a convenient option for millions of people. For example, if one only gets 6 hours of sleep some night, they can take a 1-hour nap to make up for the difference, and escape many of the ill effects of sleep deprivation.
Getting Better Naps
To get the benefits of napping, there are a few conditions that need to be met:
- Take a nap between 20 and 60 minutes. The ideal length of a nap is somewhere between 20 and 60 minutes. Any more or less than that, and the effects could be mitigated or negated entirely.
- Head to a dark, quiet room. For the most part, sleeping is of highest quality when it’s done in a dark, quiet place.
- Don’t neglect a normal sleep schedule. Napping won’t eliminate the need to have a consistent and normal sleep schedule. This isn’t a replacement; it’s a supplement.
- Investigate sleep disorders. If napping and sleeping normally are difficult, it could be a sign of a more serious sleep disorder that should be investigated.
The more we learn about napping, the more beneficial it seems to be. It’s a supplement to reduce the strain of sleep deprivation, and comes with ample benefits to justify its use.