There are a huge number of questions that people typically ask about sleep.
However, it appears one of the most popular is, “Are Naps Bad For You?”
As I’ve mentioned in the title, I really hope not, as I’m not adverse to a daytime snooze every now and then.
As with all things sleep-related there are a number of factors which may affect the answer one way or another, and this will very much depend on you as an individual.
So, without further ado I’d like to delve a little deeper into finding out whether naps are bad for you.
The Different Sleep Schedules
Were you aware that the vast majority of mammals (around 85%) are polyphasic sleepers?
Just in case you weren’t aware a polyphasic sleeper will typically sleep for short periods throughout the day, basically little but often.
In fact, us humans are one of the few mammals that stick to a monophasic sleep schedule. This means that we have 2 very distinct parts to our day – one where we are asleep and the other where we are awake.
This may seem perfectly normal. I guess this is because what we are used to. However, monophasic sleep hasn’t always been the way us humans like to get a few zzz’s and I can guarantee that there are still many people around the world who sleep very differently.
A popular method is the biphasic sleeping schedule, which will typically involve sleeping a few hours at night and another shorter period of sleep during the afternoon.
The Popular Biphasic Sleep Schedules
This will explain the term “siesta”, which is a Spanish phrase and means taking a short nap. This is usually done in the afternoon, generally following lunch, and is historically common among many of the Mediterranean countries and parts of Southern Europe.
I come from an Indian background and whenever I have visited my late mother’s home town of Kolkata it was widely accepted that pretty much everything would shut down from approximately 1pm – 5pm.
People would typically bathe after their morning exertions at work, then enjoy lunch, before taking a longish nap. They would wake up in the late afternoon, enjoy a cup of tea before returning for their evening’s work from 5pm onward.
I would hazard a guess that my own experiences of Kolkata and the Mediterranean countries use of naps is because these are extremely warm climates, and therefore it makes sense to keep out of the sun during the day.
As far as I can tell the naps that the majority of my friends and family enjoyed during my visits to India had no ill-effects.
However, this may not always be the case.
The Different Types of Napping
I bet you didn’t know there are different types of napping, but they actually make a lot of sense.
The types of naps I have mentioned above are basically habitual naps.
Over a period of time (passed down from generation to generation) it has become commonplace to nap during the afternoon in many parts of the world. I understand that some parts of mainland China still enjoy afternoon naps.
With that being said, I am led to believe that the most famous afternoon nap, the siesta, is now dying out in Spain and the surrounding areas.
I guess this has much to do with the hustle and bustle of modern life and people constantly being on the move and trying to squeeze as much into their day as possible.
This constant on-the-go lifestyle would probably explain a lot about the rise of certain medical conditions and sleep disorders, but I guess that should be saved for another article entirely.
Nevertheless, the type of napping I have mentioned (more specifically the length of the naps) goes against the grain, and is not considered to be particularly good for you. More on this in a moment.
You could also say that habitual napping is common with infants and younger children.
We then have the case of a planned nap.
This is an irregular type of nap, which I’m sure many of us have done.
Perhaps you have to be awake later than you normally are for some reason, so it makes perfect sense that you have a little shuteye to counteract any tiredness you may feel later in the evening.
Finally, we have the emergency nap, which once again I’m sure many of you are familiar with.
This will typically happen if you’ve had a particularly late night, or a number of late nights in a row, and tiredness starts to take over.
An emergency nap is probably not a bad idea if you’ve had a bad night’s sleep or were up much later than expected, and can actually help you to function later in the day.
Does That Mean Naps Are Actually Good For You?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a nap every once in a while. In fact, experts often recommend taking a nap a few times a week in order to recharge the batteries and to keep yourself performing at optimum levels.
However, this is mainly aimed at taking short naps, say no more than 20-30 minutes. This can help with alertness concentration levels and memory function.
Have you ever enjoyed a short nap and woke up feeling extremely refreshed?
This is what confuses me about the naps I got used to taking in Kolkata and also where the term “siesta” originated from.
These naps typically lasted a couple of hours at a time.
You see the longer you take a nap for the more this may impact on your sleep at night. This is especially true if you are enjoying a nap later in the day.
You are also more likely to go through a number of sleep cycles, perhaps even stopping in the middle of a specific stage of a sleep cycle. Trust me, there is nothing worse than being woken up during the stage of deep sleep, which will typically leave you feeling groggy and probably even more tired than when you went to sleep.
There are even studies which claim that long naps are associated with heart failure in those already at risk.
So, in reality, naps should always be kept short and sweet, and just enough to leave you feeling refreshed and alert.
Are naps bad for you?
In the main, no they are not.
Napping a few times a week can actually be of great benefit.
You should find that taking short naps every now and then will restore your alertness if you are feeling tired. They can help to enhance both your physical and cognitive performance, which in turn can reduce mistakes and accidents.
You could even say that napping has a number of great psychological benefits, as it is a fantastic way to help you feel relaxed and rejuvenated.
As mentioned, you should avoid napping for extended periods of time, as this will simply interfere with your nightly sleeping routine.
However, if you find that you require a nap on an almost daily basis in order to combat fatigue this could be a sign that you are sleep deprived, potentially suffering from insomnia, or it may even be the early signs of another medical condition.
If this is the case, I would suggest that you speak to your Doctor and discuss this in more detail.