Napping is one of the most intriguing and least understood aspects of sleep, hotly debated among sleep experts. Everyone agrees that some amount of napping can be beneficial, but exactly how much? And how does taking naps help us? Here at Saatva we love our naps, and so, on National Napping Day, we thought we’d share some wisdom. A nap is no substitute for a full eight hours of shuteye, but a little goes a surprisingly long way. Here’s why:
Taking a nap is popular in the natural world
According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 85% of mammals are “polyphasic sleepers,” meaning they sleep for short stints throughout the day. Humans are among the few “monophasic” sleepers in the mammalian class, meaning we sleep for one long stretch during a 24-hour period—except during infancy and old age of course. Your dog or cat might seem to get an excessive amount of sleep, but in a way their napping habits are more normal than yours!
Napping is culture
If you live in a society built around monophasic sleep (like the USA), it’s easy to forget that others may do things differently. Spain is famous for the siesta, a roughly two-hour period in the mid-afternoon where work stops and people go home to relax and, often, take a nap. The tradition derives from agrarian practices which allowed field workers to rest during the hottest part of the day. The siesta may have a scientific basis, too: experts generally consider the mid-afternoon to be the best time to nap.
Even high-flyers are caught napping
There are many studies linking naps to improved performance. One such study on pilots in flight found that a 26-minute “NASA” nap (named after purported research by the space agency) improved performance by 34% and alertness by 54%. This may be why top companies are becoming more nap-friendly, providing designated napping spaces and “nap pods” for their employees, where they can take power naps throughout the day. It’s also why many influential business leaders are pushing for changes in how our society views sleep and organize around it.
Naps should be timed carefully
Sleep happens in stages, and when we get our recommended eight hours every night, we go through each sleep stage multiple times. Our circadian rhythms have been carefully calibrated by millions of years of evolution, as well as more recent adaptations to cultural practices. Therefore, timing your naps is crucial if you want to extract the maximum benefit. Experts recommend naps of no longer than 10-30 minutes for most people. That prevents us from entering deep sleep and suffering sleep inertia—a feeling of drowsiness—upon waking. For a more restorative nap, aim for 90 minutes, which allows the body to complete roughly one full sleep cycle, including REM sleep. Anything between 30 and 90 minutes produces mixed results, because you risk waking during deep sleep.
Napping won’t hurt your weight loss regime—and it might even help
You may have heard that sleeping (and naps in particular) slow down your metabolism. That’s technically true, but it’s also not a reason to avoid them. Any changes to your metabolism during a nap quickly revert once you wake up. The only thing that changes your metabolism over time is consistent exercise and activity. Sleep in and of itself also doesn’t cause weight gain. In fact, sleep deprivation is much more likely to harm your diet plans. According to Scientific American, lack of sleep leads to an increase of the hormone ghrelin, which causes feelings of hunger, and a decrease in leptin, which causes feelings of fullness. Long story short, take a nap if you feel like you need it, and don’t worry about messing up your diet.