Any expert will tell you that babies and kids need naps. That restorative rest in the middle of the day helps them power through until bedtime and wards off crankiness.
But naps seem to get a bad reputation the older you get. At best, they are seen as being something only lazy or self-indulgent people do. At worst, well-meaning friends tell you that naps interfere with your sleep at night and hurt your health.
So, what’s the true story about naps? Are they good, bad, or somewhere in between?
Why You Might Need a Nap
In a perfect world, we’d all be bounding with energy, all day long, until it came time to head to bed in the evening. But reality isn’t like that for several reasons:
- Many of us get too little quality sleep at night, which makes us tired all day the next day.
- Our biological clocks work against us. Our hormone levels and body temperatures seem to lower in the late afternoon, which can make us super tired.
- Some of us rely on caffeine and sugar in the morning for a pick-me-up, but then suffer from an afternoon crash or slump when it wears off.
All those factors can result in feeling super tired in the afternoon and not being sure how you’ll power through it to get through the rest of your day.
That’s when some people say to themselves that they need a nap.
How Naps Can Help
Naps can make you feel better or worse, depending upon how long they are. They do have many immediate benefits that include:
- Feeling less tired.
- Being more alert afterward.
- Feeling more relaxed.
- Being in a better mood afterward.
- Improved mental ability, such as better concentration or memory.
How Naps Can Hurt
Not all naps are good. If you don’t do them the right way, you can experience the downside of napping instead of getting the benefits.
Naps can lead to some drawbacks, including:
- Experiencing grogginess or a feeling of being “out of it” afterward.
- Interference with your regular night of sleep, including insomnia.
- Feeling a lack of energy.
What Length of Nap is Best?
If you decide to take a nap, it might be beneficial or it might be harmful. That all depends on your timing. The timing aspect includes how long your nap is and what time of day you do it.
Afternoon naps should be short and sweet, not long and luxurious. If you take an extended nap that lasts an hour or two, you’ll likely feel worse after your nap instead of better. Adults who nap should keep it no longer than 30 minutes to avoid the pitfalls of daytime sleep.
A 30-minute nap may not sound like a lot, but it’s the right length of time to improve your focus, mood, and make you feel refreshed without being groggy. Even a 10-minute catnap can help you beat back afternoon fatigue.
The timing of your nap can determine whether it will keep you up at night. It’s generally a bad idea to nap after 3 p.m. because it can make it harder to go to sleep at night. Napping in the early afternoon is often an ideal time.
Remember to schedule in a few minutes to fully wake up before you have to do anything that requires total concentration. It can be difficult to shift gears suddenly after a nap.
How to Beat the Afternoon Slump Without a Nap
If you already have trouble sleeping at night, you might want to skip a nap. But how can you boost your energy levels so you’re able to get through your day without a nap?
The first thing you can do is look at your nighttime sleep habits. If you are suffering from insomnia or a lack of sleep, you should address it. Look at alternative methods for conquering your sleep issues, such as weighted blankets and establishing the right sleep environment.
By getting more shut-eye at night, you might be well-rested enough in the morning that you’ll have no trouble sailing right through your day without needing a nap.
Exercise can also be one of your best friends when you’re feeling like you have no energy. Even if you’re stuck in the office, you can fit a little exercise in by going up or down any stairs in the building or walking around as much as you can by taking short bathroom breaks.
If you’re not in the office, a brisk walk outside for a few minutes should do the trick.
Another sure-fire trick to restoring your energy levels is by tackling interesting or stimulating tasks in the afternoon. Many of us save our easier, mindless tasks like answering emails for the afternoon because we know we’ll be tired and want something easy to do. But that can backfire because it is so boring it makes us even more tired.
Another tactic that can help rejuvenate people in the afternoon is engaging in a conversation with a coworker or a friend. That can provide the mental stimulation you need to wake up.
Finally, if you’re able to do so, take a few minutes to stand out in the bright daylight if you feel tired in the afternoon. Exposure to sunlight can make you feel less sleepy quickly. And as a bonus, being in the sunlight during the day may help you sleep better at night because it may help reset your wake-sleep cycle.
Don’t Get Carried Away
Naps can be useful for fighting daytime fatigue, but you don’t want them to interfere with your nighttime sleep schedule. If you decide to take a nap, schedule it for the early afternoon and keep it short. That will allow you to get some extra rest and all the benefits of naps with none of the drawbacks.
Even if you feel like a 30-minute nap won’t be enough, give it a try. Chances are, you’ll feel refreshed and able to concentrate better. But you won’t be groggy or unable to sleep later.