Is napping healthy?
Today, it’s generally thought that a solid eight hours’ sleep each night is the best way to wake rested and ready for the day. However, it wasn’t always this way. The way people sleep has in fact changed over time, adapting to new technology and new ways of thinking.
During the 17th century, each night’s sleep was actually split in two. After getting up early to do a day’s labour, workers would sleep on their return home in the afternoon. They would then get up for two hours to run errands, such as visiting the bath house or calling on friends and family, to then get their second installment of sleep through to the next morning.
In the 18th century, the widespread use of candlelight didn’t change sleep too much, as people still avoided going out after dark due to the unsafe conditions on the streets. However, streetlamps in the 19th century allowed people to feel safer, and so it became fashionable to be out and about in the evening.
Today, while it may be generally accepted that a full night of unbroken sleep is best for our bodies, many find that unattainable. Unfortunately, this has a lot to do with technology. Gadgets such as smartphones and tablets are often utilised just before bed, but this can inhibit sleep. Giving off blue light, these gadgets trick the body into thinking it’s not sleepy, which can make it more difficult to get to sleep. This can lead to a lack of sleep, sleeplessness and even insomnia.
To counteract this lack of sleep overnight, some people turn to napping as a way of catching up on sleep during the day. However, different cultures have different attitudes to napping. While in some places there may be stigma attached to napping, other countries actively encourage it by building nap-time into their working day.
In Spain, for example, much of the country closes for ‘siesta’ over the hottest part of the day. Japan also seems to be a country of nappers. According to TEMPUR’s 2016 sleep study, 16% of Japanese respondents enjoy a good nap, compared to just 5% of Britons.*
What are the benefits of napping?
As long as a nap is taken at the correct time of day, for the correct length of time, napping can have plenty of benefits. A NASA study on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness by 100%.
A good power nap can reduce mistakes and accidents, increasing alertness in the period directly following the nap, to then extend alertness a few hours later in the day. Napping can also have psychological benefits, providing a little vacation from the day, while relaxing and rejuvenating the mind and body.
Are there any negative effects of napping?
While there are certain benefits of napping, there can also be drawbacks. Long naps can result in sleep inertia, or a groggy, disorientated feeling that comes with waking up from a too-long nap.
These feelings tend to only last a few minutes to half an hour, but they can be detrimental to anyone who has to perform immediately after waking up. Those who are sleep deprived, or who sleep for a significantly long time can find their post-nap impairment and disorientation is even more severe.
For some, napping can also negatively affect their night-time sleep patterns. By napping during the day, they find it difficult to fall asleep at night. This leads to bad quality sleep making them tired the next day, creating a cycle of napping during the day and sleeping badly at night.
When is the best time to take a nap?
To benefit most from napping, the nap should be taken in the early afternoon, with a good time being around 2pm. As for the optimal nap duration, that’s typically 10-30 minutes. By napping at this time – for this length of time – it may be possible to improve productivity and alertness, without disrupting that all-important night-time sleep cycle.
* “Global Sleep Trends” from “The Science of Sleep” published for Tempur Sealy International, Inc. http://rcnt.eu/wzx