UNC Health Talk

Napping: Is it good for everyone?

Napping isn’t just for kids. Napping can be good for adults, too.

Adnan Pervez, MD, medical director of the UNC Rex Sleep Disorders Center, answers four key questions about the health benefits and risks for taking a quick daytime snooze.

1. What are the benefits of napping?

Taking a short nap can offer health benefits such as:

  • Improved mood
  • Increased relaxation
  • Increased alertness
  • Reduced fatigue
  • Improved performance
  • Improved memory

“Memory consolidation is one of the major benefits of a good long night of sleep,” Dr. Pervez says.

In other words, your short-term memories turn into long-term ones when you sleep.

A brief nap during the day can be the perfect solution for some, but excessive naps can be a sign of an underlying sleep disorder such as sleep apnea (abnormal breathing during sleep), narcolepsy or chronic sleep deprivation from insomnia.

2. Who can benefit from a nap?

A planned nap is a good idea for night shift workers.

“For many people a nap before they depart for their night shift or during a break in the early part of the shift in combination with strategic exposure to light and use of caffeine at the right time can help them cope with an unusual schedule,” Dr. Pervez says.

A short nap can also help teens who do not get enough sleep at night. In fact there has been discussions in many states about delaying the start of school for teens to accommodate that.

“Teenagers could benefit from a short nap in the afternoon after school to maintain function and concentration,” Dr. Pervez says.

If you feel sleepy when driving, pull into somewhere safe and take a quick nap. Emergency napping is important when you’re too sleepy to continue a crucial activity such as driving.

“If drivers are feeling sleepy, they are typically advised not to rely upon extraneous measures like rolling down the window or turning up the music. Instead, we advise people to park at a rest stop and take a short nap before continuing,” Dr. Pervez says.

3. When should you nap and for how long?

For people who would benefit from napping, Dr. Pervez recommends a 10 to 20 minute nap in the early afternoon. At the most, try limiting your naps to no more than 30 minutes.

“The longer or later we nap, the greater the chances that it may prevent us from going to sleep at a decent hour at night,” Dr. Pervez says.

Napping for longer periods also can cause sleep inertia (a state of feeling groggy and disoriented when awakening from a deep sleep), which may interfere with functioning in the period immediately following the nap.

A nap can help you feel recharged, relaxed and ready for the rest of the day.

Establishing consistency in your sleep habits is key to a healthy lifestyle. Both sleep deprivation and excessive sleepiness can have serious health consequences.

The recommended amount of sleep at night depends on your age.  For example, adults between the ages of 26 and 64 should be getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep at night.

Keep in mind that not getting enough sleep can make you more susceptible to illness. And as cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) continue to surge, the need to strengthen your immune system and keep illnesses at bay may be greater than ever. Some studies have demonstrated the importance of good sleep in maintaining a healthy immune system and suggest that getting adequate sleep can boost the immune response to vaccines, Dr. Pervez says.

4. What kind of environment should we nap in?

Protect your time and environment; sleep in a dark and quiet area. Resting in a tranquil and dark room will increase your chances of falling asleep faster. Powerful sources of light in a room can have an impact on the quality of your sleep.

Light and darkness are strong signals that let your body know it’s time to rest. Your brain continues to process sounds while you’re sleeping. Noise can interrupt your dozing, leading you to wake up and shift between stages of sleep.

If have trouble sleeping or think you may be sleeping too much, take our free online SleepAware assessment to find out if you’re at risk of a sleep disorder. Find a doctor near you or learn more about our sleep disorder services in Wake County and Orange County.

Photo credit: © Klaus Vedfelt – gettyimages.com