It’s normal for children to nap but getting some midday zzzz’s is something John Mackie continues to add to his everyday life.
“When I’m tired, I’ll nap,” says Mackie, a veteran writer at The Province|Vancouver Sun.“I sleep on the couch and sometimes will watch sports. I’ll go to sleep in the first inning and wake up in the fourth inning.”
There’s research to support Mackie’s love for a siesta. Experts credit a short power nap with everything from offering the body a recharge to a reset for the brain and a way to boost heart health.
Are Naps Good for You? It Depends…
Dr. James MacFarlane knows a thing or two about naps. The Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto and a Director at MedSleep says it can be a powerful tool. That said, it’s not for everyone.
“Some people nap, and it makes their day. Some people nap, and it destroys their day. And some people just can’t nap,” he says.
Be warned. Naps aren’t for everyone. That’s because some people experience negative side-effects like sleep inertia (waking up groggy and disoriented) or disruption to nighttime sleeping. In the latter scenario, a nap can make insomnia or poor sleep even worse.
"If you're napping because it helps you get through the day, that's probably a good thing," says Dr. Michael Grandner, the director of the University of Arizona’s Sleep and Health Research Program. "But if you're napping because you just can't stay awake, that's a sign that there's some underlying health issue. You're either not getting enough sleep at night, or your sleep quality could be very poor."
But if you’re so inclined to recline during the day, naps are indeed good for you. Let’s count the ways.
Top 5 Benefits of Napping:
- Reduced fatigue
- Increased alertness
- Improved mood
- Improved performance, including quicker reaction time and better memory
Scientific findings back the need for naps, saying it helps cardiac health. A 2019 study in the British medical journal Heart tracked the napping habits of nearly 3,500 people over five years and found those who napped once or twice a week were 48 percent less likely to have a cardiovascular event than those who didn't.
Simply put, sleep does the brain and body good, says Dr. Brian Murray, a neurologist at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. So, don’t let anyone call you lazy.
"Sleep helps improve cognitive function, helps clear junk out of the brain, and has benefits systemically in terms of your immune system, endocrine system, and your general health” he says.
Mackie typically naps after work. And for decades, without expert input, he’s unwittingly been doing everything right. He sets the scene by creating a relaxing atmosphere, keeps it brief, and reaps the rewards.
“It could be 20 minutes or 30. If you nap too long, then you fall asleep,” Mackie explains. “And if you sleep too long, then you get cranky and irritable and can’t think. Your brain gets scrambled when you sleep too long.”
He takes his naps seriously (yes, he has a nap blanket and pillow) because of how it makes him feel.
“You know how you feel when you wake up first thing in the morning? That’s how I feel after a nap,” Mackie says. “It’s just like having a coffee break. It’s a way to restart.”
Dr. Grandner agrees. "A power nap, between 15 and 45 minutes, can improve memory and reduce fatigue for the rest of the day. If you're otherwise well-rested, that kind of nap can actually boost performance pretty well,” Grandner says.
Napping Know How - Top Tips to Making a Power Nap Work for You
Short and sweet: Nap in a snap. Keeping your snooze in the range of 10 to 20 minutes is ideal. Longer naps tend to leave people groggy and foggy.
Siesta anyone? Napping after 3 p.m. can interfere with nighttime sleep. However, individual factors, such as your need for sleep, your sleeping schedule, age, and medication use, are more likely to play a role in determining the best time of day to nap. Some experts suggest the best time to nap is between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. – but it’s a matter of finding what works best for you!
Set the scene: Dim the lights and find a quiet, comfortable spot to take a nap.
Dr. MacFarlane has a few helpful tips to take a great nap:
- While a bed or sofa is best, you can nap in a comfy chair
- Consider earplugs, a cool room (which will help you fall asleep quick)
- Shut your phone down or put it on Do Not Disturb
- Set the alarm, so you don’t get too much of a good thing
The Ultimate Power Nap Hack
Better than coffee? You bet. Although an afternoon nap is better than turning to caffeine for a late-day boost, you can combine the two. Drink a coffee, then immediately go to sleep for 20 minutes. That’s roughly the time it takes for the caffeine to start working. This tactic ensures you get the stimulating effect of caffeine along with the restful rewards of a nap.
Love a daily nap? There’s a day for that, but you’ll have to wait.
National Napping Day is set for March 14, 2022. You can thank Boston University professor William Anthony and his wife, Camille, for creating this holiday to spread awareness on the value of getting enough sleep. It’s timed to help people catch up for the sleep lost from daylight savings time change in spring.