Are naps good for you?

By The Health News Team | March 7, 2016
Myth Monday: Napping

It’s mid-afternoon and your eyelids are drooping. “A nap sounds good right about now,” you think to yourself. 

According to Dr. Gary Levinson, a board-certified internal medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy and sleep expert at Sharp Memorial Hospital, while a nap is OK on occasion, it usually signals something more concerning — sleep deprivation. 

“Napping suggests inadequate sleep duration at night,” says Dr. Levinson. “It is OK to nap on occasion, particularly on the weekends when fatigue may strike from a busy week or following excessive exercise.” 

However, he warns that napping on a regular basis will actually worsen nighttime sleep. “Sleep is like a bank account,” he says. “When you lack adequate sleep at night you develop a sleep debt, which can be offset by napping.” 

Dr. Levinson recommends you tough it out until nighttime and go to sleep earlier than usual to ensure you pay back your debt with a full eight hours of sleep, instead of napping. 

He advises against taking a nap over 30 minutes, as it may result in grogginess and poor sleep the following night. In general, you should sleep seven to eight hours every 24 hours. 

Dr. Levinson’s rules for napping: 

  • Naps should not last more than 30 minutes — also called power naps. 

  • Sleep is controlled by light and darkness, so make sure the room is dark. 

  • Minimize electronic light from computers, tablets, TV or smartphones. 

  • Minimize noises that could be distracting by turning off ringtones.

  • Relax the brain with either meditation or light music.  

Deep sleep, also called delta sleep, is important for your body to fully recuperate from the day. “It is rare to get into a deep sleep during a nap since the nap duration is so short,” adds Dr. Levinson. “In general, patients will only be in a light sleep unless they were severely sleep-deprived.” 

What if you get a full eight hours of sleep, but are still yearning for a nap? “This usually means you have nocturnal sleep that was unrefreshing, inadequate and disturbed,” says Dr. Levinson. “Through a polysomnogram, a type of sleep monitoring study, a sleep specialist can evaluate and rule out recurrent awakenings during overnight sleep, which may not be evident to you.” 

So, the next time you head for a power nap, make sure to balance your sleep bank account to ensure you get the most out of your afternoon shut-eye.

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