If it’s partway through the day and you feel those eyelids start drooping, it’s often all too easy to just put your head down and let the sweet ZZZ’s carry you away.
That said, when you consider all the problems that can often arise from ill-planned midday napping – afternoon grogginess, messed-up sleep schedules and more – it can sometimes be hard to say whether naps are more trouble than they’re worth.
So, which is it?
Are naps a godsend or a curse?
Here’s everything you need to know about the pros and cons of midday napping.
Pro: Naps Can Reenergize You
The biggest advantage of midday naps is, of course, their ability to kickstart your afternoon.
We all know that sinking feeling that comes with the midday slump.
Every moment awake becomes a struggle, and your productivity basically flatlines.
Naps can help get you out of that kind of rut, allowing your body a couple minutes to rest and recover before you get on with your busy, busy day.
Sneaking in a couple extra minutes of sleep in the middle of the day can work wondering on your mood and energy levels – and in fact, some of the most forward-thinking companies these days are catching on.
In many areas, workplace naps are becoming an increasingly important part of company culture.
NASA, for instance, found these extra couple minutes of shut-eye substantially improve employee performance, and has been integrating midday naps into their daily schedule since the 90’s.
If you’re looking to wake up from your latest nap feeling particularly refreshed, you might even consider a new trend among sleep aficionados known as the caffeine nap.
If you quickly drink a cup of coffee before shutting off the lights and give yourself about 20 minutes before you need to wake up, the caffeine in your drink should be hitting your bloodstream at pretty much the same time as you wake up.
This prevents the sluggishness that so often comes with getting up from a much needed nap, replacing it with a double-shot of energy that will keep you going for hours to come!
Con: Naps Can Also Backfire
As anyone who’s had a bad experience with a nap can tell you, however, it’s very easy for this sort of stuff to backfire.
It’s not uncommon to experience major sleep inertia on waking up from a nap – that is, that persistent feeling of tiredness that can often stay with you for hours.
Some may find that midday naps are horrible for both their mood and their productivity, and they’re definitely not for everyone.
To find the best results when it comes to midday naps, you really need to take your scheduling seriously.
For best results, the Mayo Clinic suggests setting your alarm for somewhere between 10 and 30 minutes after you doze off.
While this might seem like small change if you’ve lost multiple hours of sleep the previous night, there’s a reason to be keeping your naps this short.
Sleep any longer than 30 minutes, and you risk getting into the realm of REM sleep – the most important stage of sleep, where most dreaming occurs.
While REM sleep is known for its restorative powers, once your brain has settled into deep sleep, it’s a really bad idea to wake it up too soon.
Forcing yourself out of REM sleep with an alarm is apt to leave you with a massive case of sleep inertia.
Because of this, if you do want to sleep more than 30 minutes, your only other option is to go whole hog and set that alarm for a full 90 minutes after you go to sleep.
This is about the amount of time it takes to go through a complete REM cycle, so you should be back to light, easily-interrupted sleep at the end of this spell.
Pro: Naps Are Natural
Another thing to consider when planning your next midday nap is that, according to some recent research, your body might actually be designed to settle in for a bit of shut-eye partway through the day.
The typical person goes through two major slumps in energy over a 24-hour period.
The more intense one, of course, takes place at night, starting a little after sundown and getting increasingly intense until you go to sleep.
However, a more reasonable dip in energy tends to occur partway through the day, between 1 and 3 in the afternoon.
Your core body temperature naturally drops during these couple hours, inducing feelings of tiredness.
In many cultures, this is simply accepted as a fact of life, with many people slipping away from work partway through the day to get an extra bit of rest.
Giving yourself this kind of break actually comes with a number of psychological benefits.
According to a comprehensive review of scientific literature by the American Psychological Association, naps have been found to improve all manner of cognitive functions.
Memory, focus, patience, and adaptability all see a major uptick after a solid nap, in addition to the more obvious benefits that come with decreased fatigue.
All in all, naps often seem to be just what the doctor ordered.
Con: Naps Can Wreck Your Sleep Schedule
If you’ve ever gotten a little carried away with an unplanned nap, however, you’ve probably experienced the kind of damage those things can do on you sleep schedule.
While they might feel good in the moment, all those hours of lost sleep you gained with you desperate siesta might slip away when you lie down to sleep that night.
The trick lies in the timing.
That two hour period between 1pm and 3pm is really your ideal window.
While you can certainly nap earlier than that, you’re getting into dangerous waters if you end up snoozing past 3pm.
You’re extending your body’s cooldown period longer than is natural, and that can have major consequences come sleep-time.
Obviously, you’ll want to be pretty careful about sleeping too long come naptime, as well.
Those REM cycles of yours will repeat every 90 minutes or so, so if you time it right, you can at least cut back on the sleep inertia.
But in reality, the best way to catch up on lost sleep typically just involves going to bed earlier.
If you just sleep in late or try to make up for it with naps, you always run the risk of not being able to sleep at night.
Far better to just make yourself go to bed at a reasonable time, and wake up with the whole day ahead of you tomorrow.
Pro: Some Folks Live on Nothing But Naps
Finally, the last hidden benefit of midday napping comes to us from a quirky, largely unresearched sleep schedule known as polyphasic sleeping.
Polyphasic sleep techniques involve reducing your entire sleep schedule to a series of naps spaced strategically throughout the day.
There are a couple different options for you, here.
Some polyphasic sleepers opt for a longer, core period of sleep somewhere between 90 minutes and 6 hours.
This is then supplanted with naps regularly spaced throughout the day.
Other polyphasic sleep options, however, involve reducing your entire schedule to naps.
The most extreme iteration of this is the Uberman sleep schedule, which reduces all of your sleep to six 20-minute naps spaced evenly over a 24-hour period.
This means you can get by on a mere two hours of sleep per day!
How It Works
The way polyphasic sleeping works is by basically compressing all of your REM sleep into those brief, 20-minute periods.
Since REM is where most of the cognitive benefits of sleep take place, some polyphasic sleepers claim they experience no negative side effects from making such giant cuts in their hours of sleep.
The only health-related drawback these sleep pioneers have seen is that intense exercise typically isn’t the greatest idea, since your body isn’t getting all the time it needs to properly recover.
According to anecdotal evidence, however, there aren’t any other risks.
The only thing is that it’s impossible to get into by yourself.
You’ll need a few friends to help, and the adjustment period usually takes around a month of utter exhaustion.
But, It Might Be Terrible for You
Unfortunately, however, there has yet to be any scientific research into the long-term health effects of polyphasic sleeping.
Most sleep experts are, understandably, pretty wary of it.
Every other time people try to cut down on sleep, they’ll experience some kind of major setbacks elsewhere in their life.
The thing is, though, people have successfully lived on polyphasic sleep cycles for years, apparently unaffected.
Is all this taking years off their life?
Who knows, it’s not like anyone really understands how sleep works!
Anyway, I hope this article has been helpful in sorting out the best way to tackle midday naps.
They’re tricky things, but if you handle them right, you stand to reap all kinds of benefits.
Snoozing doesn’t have to be losing – you’ve just got to do it right.
That’s all for now, sleepyheads.
Good luck out there, and pleasant dreams!