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The Pros and Cons of Napping

Margaret Jack  By Margaret Jack   |   Posted in Sleep Research   |   Last updated: Monday 5th November 2012

Napping – the act of having a sleep during the day – is a surprisingly controversial subject. While it’s easy to assume that nothing could be more unassuming than a nap, some see it as a bad habit that could directly harm your overall sleep quality and, as a result, your health and wellbeing. The truth is that both points of view can be correct in certain cases, but provided that you follow a few simple rules there’s nothing wrong with taking the occasional nap.

First of all, it’s crucial to time your nap and not allow it to go over twenty minutes. The body goes through several phases of sleep, and follows a cycle over the course of a night. When you’re sleeping for around eight hours, these phases are entered and exited in a natural way. However, when you’re napping you are effectively forcing the body to miss out phases and wake up at a point where you’re simply not ready. That’s why you might feel groggy or disorientated after a nap, or when you’re woken up unexpectedly. By setting a twenty minute limit on your nap you’re preventing the body from entering into the deep sleep phase, remaining in the light sleep state from which it isn’t a problem to wake up from.

Napping for longer than twenty minutes, as well as risking being woken up during a deep sleep phase, can ‘trick’ the body into believing that it is experiencing its main sleep session – which would of course usually happen at night. When this happens during the day it creates an unnatural boost of energy that can power the body and mind long into the evening and night, pushing back eventual bedtime and creating a knock-on effect that disrupts your usual sleep routine. Just one long daytime nap can be enough to cause sleep deprivation the next day.

Despite these negatives, the benefits of a well-timed and controlled nap can be significant. The energy recovered from those twenty minutes of shut-eye can help you get through the mid-afternoon slump and deliver a second-wind to power through the rest of the day. If you’re experiencing a particularly stressful or energy-sapping day then a nap might be just the thing to help your body and mind cope. 

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