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Sleep Hygiene Tip of the Week || Think carefully before napping

“Rosie and Jennie Took a Cat-Nap.”
Harry Whittier Frees, 1915. Public domain.

There’s lots of contradictory advice out there about napping. Who should nap? Who shouldn’t nap? When is a nap a good idea? A bad idea? What’s a good nap length? Let’s take these one at a time.

1. Who should nap?

  • Naps are good for children as their developing bodies often need the added rest.
  • The elderly often nap, and it’s not a bad idea. They may have multiple health conditions that lead to daytime sleepiness, and they may also be taking numerous medications that cause them to feel drowsy. 
  • Anyone who is sick with a virus or infection can benefit from napping. The body is working hard at the cellular level to manage healing; sleeping gives the body an added opportunity to repair itself.
  • Anyone with a chronic health condition or a serious disease like cancer can benefit from a nap. 
  • Postoperative patients can benefit from naps while they are in recovery and/or rehabilitation mode.

2. Who shouldn’t nap?

  • Don’t get into the habit of napping if you are suffering from insomnia. It seems counterintuitive (“don’t sleep if you can’t sleep?”), but regular napping may actually lead to chronic insomnia. Try to get most of your sleep at night and only nap if you really can’t avoid it. 
  • If you suffer from depression, taking a nap may not help matters as it may continue to alter already disrupted sleep patterns that arise from the condition or via the pharmaceuticals used to treat depression.

3. When is a nap a good idea?

  • If you are unexpectedly drowsy, a quick nap can give you the recharge you need. Often we feel drowsy in the early to mid-afternoon. As long as you don’t oversleep, you can benefit from a nap at this time.
  • If you work night or overnight shifts, a nap prior to working can add some sleep to your “bank” so your recovery time afterward can be easier.
  • If you have been diagnosed with idiopathic hypersomnia or narcolepsy, planned naps can help offset these conditions. (Please don’t diagnose yourself: get a confirmed diagnosis from a sleep health professional. Excessive daytime sleepiness can be caused by any number of health conditions, many of them not related to sleep.)

4. When is a nap a bad idea?

  • If you tend to wake up groggy from naps, then you might not benefit from taking them right before you need to perform tasks that require alertness. 
  • If you have insomnia, you might consider how often you nap, and for how long. Naps, if not absolutely necessary for function or healing, can actually reduce your sleep drive at night and make it harder to fall asleep or to get most of your sleep at night.
  • It’s after 3pm. Any naps after this time may very well disrupt your nighttime sleeping patterns.

5. What’s a good nap length?

  • Quick naps are best. Ten to 30 minutes should do the trick.

Other things to consider:

  • If you use a device for your nighttime sleeping, such as supplemental O2 through a cannula, a PAP mask, nasal strips or an oral device, make sure and enlist these tools for naps, as well. They are yours to use to improve all sleep, not just the sleep you get at night.
  • Eating a meal right before a nap could aggravate any heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease you may suffer from. You may wish to take a medication for this condition prior to napping.
  • Always opt for a nap if you are driving a motor vehicle or operating heavy machinery and find you are extremely drowsy. Do not think you can “power through” extreme fatigue. Your sleep drive is a physiological process which can’t be denied. 
  • A warm room might be conducive to sleep onset, but you may not have a very long nap if you are overheated. If your sleeping environment is overwarm, try using a fan and blankets to moderate ambient temperature.
  • Make sure you nap in an environment conducive to sleep (make sure it is dark and quiet, for example) or you might be frustrated by your failure to sleep.
  • If you are regularly fatigued and need to nap daily, this could be a sign of an underlying health condition. Contact your doctor to discuss your options.

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