Experts recommend that adults get seven to eight hours of sleep a night, but for most of us, life often gets in the way of the best bedtime intentions. Whether it's due to a new baby at home or because you've been putting in earlier hours at the office, not getting enough sleep is fairly common-though its impact on your health can be surprising. That's where napping comes in. Not only can an afternoon snooze energize you, but it can also help improve heart health, boost your mood and more. But there's a right and wrong way to go about sneaking in a few extra zzz's. From the benefits of midday sleep to when, where and how long your naps should be, read on for everything you need to know about getting a little shut-eye.
A midday nap can help you focus.
On the days when you're dragging, a nap is more than just a great way to feel refreshed-it can also help you think better. A 2010 study at the University of California-Berkley found that a group of young adults fared better in learning exercises having taken a 90-minute nap at 2 p.m., as opposed to a similar control group not allowed to nap. "When you're sleepy, you don't remember things as well. Your concentration is poor and it can be difficult to retain things," says Donna Arand, PhD, experimental psychologist at the Kettering Sleep Disorders Center in Dayton, Ohio. "If you took naps, you would be able to remember better, think better and retain better. It would be a definite win-win situation." Bonus: You don't need to lie down for 90 minutes, like the study's participants, in order to reap the rewards of a nap-most doctors recommend just 20 to 30 minutes of midday sleep.
A nap can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Just as sleep impacts mental clarity and brain function, it can also affect your heart health. "There's research that shows people who sleep six hours a night put themselves at greater risk [for heart disease] than those who sleep seven to eight hours a night," says Sarah Conklin, PhD, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Allegheny College. "Daytime sleep may have some type of restorative effect that undoes the negative effect of short nocturnal sleep." In other words, for people who are sleep-deprived, a 45- to 60-minute nap has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease. "The benefit of napping during the day might depend on what you want to change, but if there is an opportunity to sleep 45 minutes to an hour a day, it may have a measurable benefit in reducing the heart disease risk that is associated with not sleeping [at night] very long."
There is an ideal time of day to nap.
If you've ever been to Spain, you know that after lunch, everything tends to shut down for the afternoon siesta. But the fact that it takes place between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. is no coincidence. Dr. Arand points to the "postprandial dip," which is when your body experiences a natural drop in mental and physical energy. "That's when a lot of cultures have the siesta, and it really is a normal, inborn following of the circadian rhythms," Dr. Arand says. She adds that scheduling snooze sessions during this time of day won't interfere with your ability to fall asleep at bedtime. However, she warns against napping later in the day. "Don't try to take a nap at 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. in the evening. If you can get through [that time without sleeping], then that's probably the best," she says.
Use an alarm.
You may be accustomed to setting your alarm clock at night, but it can also be a valuable tool for daytime catnaps. "A lot of people worry, 'I'm going to take a nap and sleep too long and screw this thing up,'" says David Volpi, MD, director of the Manhattan Snoring & Sleep Center. Setting an alarm clock will help limit sleep time, as well as reduce any anxiousness about over-sleeping. "If you're lying there worrying about getting yourself up on time, then you're going to have anxiety and not get to sleep."
If you get enough sleep but still feel tired, see a doctor.
Napping is a great option for people who don't get seven to eight hours of sleep per night. But for those who get enough nocturnal rest and still feel the need for a daily nap, it could indicate a larger problem. "An occasional nap is a good idea, but if you need to nap despite the fact that you sleep at night, that might be the time to get checked out," says Karl Doghramji, MD, medical director at the Jefferson Sleep Disorders Center at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. According to Dr. Doghramji, this type of sleeping pattern can indicate poor sleep quality, which might be attributed to a sleep-related disorder such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy. The bottom line? If you are getting seven or more hours of sleep every night and still feel tired throughout the day, see a doctor to rule out a sleep disorder or other health condition.
Create a nap-friendly zone.
Just like at night, ambiance is important when it comes to daytime snoozing. According to Dr. Doghramji, the room you nap in should be as dark and quiet as possible. "Nap in a bed, if you can. But if not, a comfortable lounge chair is better than putting your head down at your desk," he says. Also, the temperature should be comfortable, which for most people, according to Dr. Doghramji, is slightly cool. All of these elements help contribute to a deeper sleep, which means a better sleep.
Photo: © iStock
Article originally appeared on WomansDay.com.
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