Naps are surprisingly controversial in both the working and medical community, with different studies painting different pictures on whether or not they are actually beneficial or detrimental. Typically, napping at work is frowned upon due to negative associations of poor productivity. In some studies, naps have also been linked to ill health. It has been suggested, for instance, that taking longer naps can increase levels of inflammation, which is in turn linked to heart disease and greater risk of death1. Other research has connected napping to high blood pressure, diabetes2, obesity, depression and anxiety3. Some studies have even highlighted it as a symptom of dementia in older adults4, implying that the habit could signal larger health problems.
However, for every negative point on napping out there, there exists a flipside in which it is found to be beneficial. Just recently, new research stated that napping a few times a week to catch up on sleep might help stave off cardiovascular-related incidents, such as heart attack5. Others in the same vein have found that it can make us more effective problem solvers by improving brain functions ranging from memory to focus and creativity6. In other instances, it is also said to help us recharge our willpower as well as reduce stress7.
For the majority of us, the contrasting information may raise more questions than it answers. Even so, workplace napping remains prevalent in employee wellness programmes across various organisations, manifesting in the form of dedicated nap rooms or longer lunch breaks. What then is the consensus on napping, and is it truly useful for improving our health and productivity?
It differs from person to person
While these studies can be confusing in terms of the effects of napping, the answer is actually rather simple: it depends on how much we rely on naps, as well as how well we respond to them.
For those of us who have trouble thinking, focusing, or staying awake, a short nap could make a huge difference. It could reduce stress and fatigue while also boosting our performance and productivity at work. For some, naps can even be as restorative as a night of sleep, allowing them to be more energetic and alert and in turn reducing their reliance on stimulants like caffeine or energy drinks.
But naps can also have the opposite effect for some people. Some find that they are disoriented and have trouble focusing after waking up from a nap. Others may also find that napping during the day means that they will have trouble sleeping at night due to the disruption to their sleep cycle.
The important thing is to recognise and understand how naps affect us individually. This can be done by keeping track of details such as the time that you take your nap, how long you sleep, how much sleep you got the night before, and so on. All of these things factor into how well we respond to naps.
How can we nap better?
Napping is a habit that is inherently personal, as our preferences are often shaped by individual lifestyle choices. It may therefore take some time for you to figure out the combination of factors that will allow for the best nap, though there are a few general guidelines that can help you streamline the process:
- Keep it short. The general consensus is that a 20-to-30-minute nap may be the most ideal for a pick-me-up. Indulging in longer naps, on the other hand, can lead to sleep inertia. Most of us know this as the post-sleep grogginess that can be difficult to shake off.
- Plan your naps. Scheduling regular naps will allow them to work with your sleep cycle rather than against it, which also helps us to fall asleep and wake up quicker. Similarly, planned naps can prevent us from falling asleep too late in the day, which tends to have a bigger impact on our ability to fall asleep at night.
- Nap in a conducive environment. Places that are dark, cool and quiet can help us to nod off faster and sleep better. This lets us minimise the time wasted for us to get to sleep and utilise the planned duration more effectively. Employers can help out in this aspect by investing in napping pods or dedicated napping rooms.
- Clear your mind. Mulling over various concerns and imminent obligations can disrupt our ability to fall asleep. Should you find yourself having a hard time switching your brain off, consider practising some simple mindfulness exercises. These can also help you to wake up feeling more recharged and refreshed. A bigger aspect of this involves setting aside the guilt that is typically associated with workplace napping. Employers can play a part by pushing against the existing stigma, which can come in the form of policy adjustments or tangible facility investments.
Over to you
Ultimately, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with allowing for, and engaging in workplace napping as it serves the purpose of recharging our body and mind. The key, however, is to do what works for each of us. If you happen to be a habitual napper, try to be intentional about your naps by constantly checking in with yourself about its impacts on your health and work performance. Adjust accordingly as you go along, so that you are able to reap the most benefits from it. On the other hand, if you are not a habitual napper and realise that napping makes you feel worse, it is perfectly all right to not nap at all. Instead, find out how other healthy alternatives can do the same for you, such as engaging in some mindfulness activities or taking a brief stroll outside. The main takeaway here is that self-knowledge is crucial. By taking the time to know ourselves and understanding what our body and mind needs, we can allow ourselves to make more informed lifestyle choices as well as build healthy, holistic habits. After all, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to our health, and what works for others may not always work for us.
1. Cimons, M. (2020). Chronic inflammation is long lasting, insidious, dangerous. And you may not even know you have it. The Washington Post.
2. BBC News. (2016). Long daytime naps are 'warning sign' for type-2 diabetes.
3. Léger, D., Torres, M., Bayon, V., Hercberg, S., Galan, P., Chennaoui, M., & Andreeva, V. (2019). The association between physical and mental chronic conditions and napping.
4. Citroner, G. (2019). Alzheimer's Symptoms: Daytime Napping. Healthline.
5. Häusler, N., Haba-Rubio, J., Heinzer, R., & Marques-Vidal, P. (2019). Association of napping with incident cardiovascular events in a prospective cohort study.
6. Harvard Health. (2009). Napping may not be such a no-no.
7. Heid, M. (2014). You Asked: Is It Good or Bad to Take a Nap?. Time.