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Keep Calm and Nap On? The Pros and Cons of Naps

Key takeaway: Short naps can help you feel better and more alert

The Pros and Cons of Naps

It’s afternoon and your alertness has taken a nosedive. What you really want to do is find a quiet spot and take a nap. But should you?

About one-third of American adults say yes to naps on a daily basis, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Research has shown that a quick catnap can help you recharge and refresh.

Yet not all naps are equally good for you. Here’s the lowdown on grabbing a midday snooze.

“Set an alarm and limit your nap to about 20 minutes.”  Eric Shakespeare, MD

How naps can be beneficial

The longer you are awake, the more pressure for sleep builds up in your body. Scientists refer to this pressure as homeostatic sleep drive. “Napping may ease the pressure a bit, helping you feel more awake and mentally sharper,” says pulmonologist and sleep medicine specialist Eric Shakespeare, MD, with LVPG Pulmonary–Pottstown.

Studies have shown that a short nap can help:

  • Restore alertness
  • Relieve fatigue
  • Boost mood
  • Enhance memory
  • Improve performance on mental tasks

When and how long to nap

If you’re going to nap, sleep experts say that early afternoon (before 3 p.m.) is the best time to do it. “Set an alarm and limit your nap to about 20 minutes,” Dr. Shakespeare says. “That can ease the pressure to sleep just enough to help you through the next few hours.”

But beware: Napping too late or too long can interfere with nighttime sleep. After a long nap, you may also wake up feeling groggy at first.

Why you might need a nap

An occasional nap can be a treat. “But feeling sleepy during the day to the point of frequent napping may be a sign of poor sleep at night,” Dr. Shakespeare says. Common reasons include:

  • Lifestyle factors, such as caring for a baby at night or doing shift work
  • Sleep-disrupting habits, such as drinking coffee after lunch or alcohol close to bedtime
  • Medical conditions that may affect sleep, such as depression or multiple sclerosis
  • Sleep disorders, such as untreated sleep apnea (a condition in which breathing repeatedly stops and restarts during sleep)

Talk with your doctor or clinician if you often struggle to stay awake during the day or don’t feel refreshed after sleeping. Also, tell them if your bed partner says that you snore or gasp while sleeping, which could be a sign of sleep apnea.



If you are feeling the effects of poor or not enough sleep, schedule an appointment with your family physician or see a specialist in pulmonary medicine

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