Naps: for some they are part of a daily ritual, for others an ad hoc luxury. But are they good for you? We asked our guru of sleep Dr Neil Stanley for his thoughts on the pros and cons of napping.
Whilst naps will never make up for a poor night’s sleep, a short nap of just 20-30 minutes can help pep you up, both improving your performance and reducing the number of mistakes you’re likely to make during the day if you’re overtired. Psychologically, a nap also feels like a ‘treat’, providing much needed respite from a stressful day and improving your overall sense of wellbeing.
Napping, however, doesn’t always work. If you sleep for too long you’re likely to wake feeling groggy and disorientated; otherwise known as ‘sleep inertia’. This feeling can last anything from a few minutes to half an hour. If you nap for too long or too late in the day, sleeping later is likely to become harder. If you’re already having trouble sleeping at night, a nap in the day is likely to make it worse, not better.
So, how do you know if you should nap?
If you had a poor night’s sleep and you know why – perhaps you were working late, out partying, were travelling or up half the night with a new-born – then having a nap to catch up on your sleep quota can work wonders. But, if there’s no clear reason for your poor night’s sleep, it’s best to avoid napping in the day. Napping isn’t recommended for those suffering from insomnia as the priority is to re-establish a consistent night time sleep pattern, not one that is dependent on ‘topping up’ in the day.
For the ultimate power nap, drink a can of a functional energy drink (not coffee; the caffeine levels are too inconsistent) just before you nap. Yes, you read that right! As the caffeine takes roughly 30 minutes to kick-in, you’ll get half an hour of relaxing snooze time before you wake and enjoy the boost from both the nap and the caffeine.
It’s also important to nap in a place where you can disengage mentally from your surroundings. To help, try and pick a time and a place where there are likely to be few distractions, make the room or surroundings as dark as possible and avoid using electronic devices beforehand.