If you’re starting off the day exhausted after a night of fitful sleep or an alarm clock that went off a few hours before you were ready to get up, you might be looking forward to an afternoon nap.
While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s important to know the most effective way to approach napping.
What naps can do
We all have a rough night from time to time, and Johns Hopkins sleep researcher Molly Atwood says that the right kind of nap can help.
“When you haven’t gotten a great night of sleep, napping can really help improve things like reaction time and memory if you need to be working,” she said.
This sweet spot will allow you to wake up more alert but without any negative impact on your ability to sleep later that night.
In specific situations, like those who work third shift or frequently wake up throughout the night, a nap during the day can provide a beneficial supplement to longer sleep cycles.
And what they can’t do
Relying on naps to “make up” for lost sleep during the night is a bad idea, says University of Massachusetts Amherst researcher Rebecca Spencer.
There’s a reason experts say we should get seven to eight hours of sleep each night. That gives us enough time to cycle through the stages of sleep, each of which corresponds with health benefits that can’t be duplicated with naps.
Getting less than that has been proven to increase the risk of health problems like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and even mental problems.
It is important to regularly reach deep sleep and rapid eye movement, the third and fourth stages, in order to support a healthy immune system and allow your brain to properly store memories.