You may be familiar with that feeling of overwhelming sleepiness during the mid-afternoon. It’s common, occurs whether you’ve eaten lunch or not, and is caused by a natural dip in alertness from about 1 to 3pm. So, if you find yourself fighting off sleep in the middle of the day and you’re somewhere where you can have a nap, then do it.
Taking the time for a brief nap will relieve the sleepiness almost immediately and improve alertness for several hours after waking. And there are many other benefits too.
People nap for lots of reasons, some which are:
• to catch up on lost sleep
• in anticipation of sleep loss to avoid feeling sleepy later on
• for enjoyment, boredom or to pass time.
Napping is relatively common. In fact, about 50% of us report taking a nap at least once per week.
Napping rates are greater in countries like Greece, Brazil and Mexico that have a culture of siesta, which incorporate “quiet time” in the early afternoon for people to go home for a nap. In such countries, up to 72% of people will nap as often as four times per week.
Naps are not only beneficial because they make us feel less sleepy and more alert, but because they improve our cognitive functioning, reaction times, short-term memory and even our mood.
The benefits of having a nap are similar to those of drinking coffee. Photo by Jakub Kapusnak on Unsplash
Our research (not yet published) has found those who regularly nap report feeling more alert after a brief nap in the afternoon when compared to those who only nap occasionally.
Another research group found that motor learning, which is where brain pathways change in response to learning a new skill, was significantly greater following a brief afternoon nap for regular nappers when compared to non-nappers.
In fact, the overall benefits of naps are similar to those experienced after consuming caffeine (or other stimulant medications) but without the side effects of caffeine dependence and possibly disrupted sleep at night time.
How long should a nap be?
The amount of time you spend napping really depends on the time you have available, how you want the nap to work for you, and your plans for the coming night. Generally speaking, the longer a nap is, the longer you will feel rejuvenated after waking.
Long naps of one to two hours during the afternoon will mean you are less sleepy (and require less sleep) that night. This could mean it will take longer than usual to fall asleep.