The Benefits of Napping

Much of the world, but not the United States, embraces the siesta culture. . racorn/Shutterstock

Napping has become a regular part of my life, not because I'm the one catching zzz's, but because my toddler naps every day at 12:30 p.m. Some parents are easygoing about their kids' nap schedules. I am not one of those parents. That's because if my toddler doesn't get his two-hour nap, he turns into a monster by mid-afternoon.

For most kids, napping drops off by age 4 or 5 (some even drop their nap at age 3, bless their parents' hearts). But there is well-documented research that shows that napping can be beneficial well into adulthood. Here's how.

Improved memory. Researchers at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore say napping before a test is just as effective as cramming for it. In the study, researchers asked 84 volunteers to study college-level material about animals. The participants studied for four 40 minute blocks. After the first two blocks, one group of participants napped for 60 minutes, another group of participants revised what they had just learned, and the final group of participants watched a movie. After the participants completed the process, they completed a 360-question exam about what they had learned.

Researchers suspect nappers scored better in the study because of processes in the brain that helped to transform new information into memory as they slept.

That thought is echoed in Dr. Marc Weissbluth's book, "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child," which says that while a child is sleeping, his brain is hard at work processing all the things he has learned during the day. "Sleeping well increases brainpower just as lifting weights builds stronger muscles," he writes. There have been numerous studies over the last decade that found that naps can help improve memory and can even help improve problem-solving skills.

Due to these findings, some companies have started encouraging and promoting nap time in an effort to increase employee satisfaction and productivity.

May lower blood pressure. An afternoon snooze may help drop your blood pressure. In an American College of Cardiology press release, Greek cardiologist Manolis Kallistratos says, “Midday sleep appears to lower blood pressure levels at the same magnitude as other lifestyle changes. For example, salt and alcohol reduction can bring blood pressure levels down by 3 to 5 mm Hg.” Kallistratos and the other authors of his study found that for every hour you nap, systolic blood pressure drops an average of 3 mm Hg. They found that a typical midday nap can lower blood pressure by an average of 5 mm Hg. By comparison, taking a low-dose blood pressure drug can lower your level an average of 5 to 7 mm Hg.

“These findings are important because a drop in blood pressure as small as 2 mm Hg can reduce the risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attack by up to 10 percent,” Kallistratos said in the press release.

Naps are good for your heart. In a study published in the journal Heart, researchers looked at the napping and sleep habits of nearly 3,500 Swiss adults. They found that those who took one or two daytime naps each week had a lower risk of heart problems, including stroke and heart disease, than people who didn't take naps at all. Daytime naps might make up for insufficient sleep at night, helping to relieve stress and thereby protecting the heart, researchers said.

Helps process subconscious thoughts. A study from the University of Bristol revealed that taking a short nap helps the brain process subconscious information that occurred prior to sleeping. Researchers gave 16 participants a control task and a "masked prime" task, which is a subconscious task. Then, they divided them into two groups — one to stay awake and the other took a 90-minute nap. Those who slept experienced improved processing speeds for the subconscious, masked prime task. Therefore, the researchers concluded that naps can help people process information subconsciously, which could lead to more goal-oriented behavior.

Naps can help restore alertness. Studies performed at NASA involving military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness by 100%. In fact, if you're driving through the night and feel drowsy, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends pulling over, taking a short nap and then getting a caffeinated drink to rejuvenate yourself. (Although you probably didn’t need the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to tell you that.)

A woman reclines on her sofa while watching TV
A power nap can help you unwind after a long day. Alliance/Shutterstock

It can help you relax. Much of the world (excluding the United States, unfortunately) embraces the siesta culture. In many European countries, businesses will close in the middle of the day for a time, allowing everyone to "regroup" before they tackle the afternoon. As a matter of fact, the CEO of The Energy Project, Tony Schwartz, wrote an op-ed for The New York Times in which he details the importance of taking frequent breaks (even naps) as a form of "renewal" with which to tackle your work.

Reduced fatigue. A study performed on sleepy night-shift air traffic controllers found that a 40-minute nap (of which 19 minutes were actually spent sleeping) rejuvenated tired controllers. After their naps, air traffic controllers were more alert, and therefore more effective.

Improved mood. This can be said for the toddler I mentioned above, as well for my 99-year-old grandmother. A well-timed midday nap can do wonders for improving your mood. Studies show this one is true too, but you probably don’t need a study to tell you that sleeping feels good.

View Article Sources
  1. Lam, Janet C., et al. “The Effects of Napping on Cognitive Function in Preschoolers.” Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics: JDBP, vol. 32, no. 2, 2011, pp. 90-7., doi:10.1097/DBP.0b013e318207ecc7

  2. Milner, Catherine E., and Kimberly A. Cote. "Benefits of Napping in Healthy Adults: Impact of Nap Length, Time of Day, Age, and Experience with Napping." Journal of Sleep Research, vol. 18, no. 2, 2009, pp. 272-281., doi:10.1111/j.1365-2869.2008.00718.x

  3. Cousins, James N., et al. “The Long-Term Memory Benefits of a Daytime Nap Compared with Cramming.” Sleep, vol. 42, no. 1, 2019, p. zsy207., doi:10.1093/sleep/zsy207

  4. Weissbluth, Marc. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child: A Step-By-Step Program for a Good Night's Sleep. New York, Ballantine Books, 2005.

  5. MacDonald, Kevin J., et al. "A Daytime Nap Enhances Visual Working Memory Performance and Alters Event-Related Delay Activity." Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, vol. 18, no. 6, 2018, pp.1105-1120., doi:10.3758/s13415-018-0625-1

  6. Beijamini, Felipe, et al. "After Being Challenged by a Video Game Problem, Sleep Increases the Chance to Solve It." PLoS One, vol. 9, no. 1, 2014., doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084342

  7. Redeker, Nancy S., et al. "Workplace Interventions to Promote Sleep Health and an Alert, Healthy Workforce." Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, vol. 15, no. 4, 2019, pp. 649-657., doi:10.5664/jcsm.7734

  8. Poulimenos, Leonidas, et al. "Mid-Day Sleep Effects as Potent as Recommended Lifestyle Changes in Patients with Arterial Hypertension." Journal of the American College of Cardiology, vol. 73, no. 9, 2019, pp. 20., doi:10.1016/S0735-1097(19)33782-9

  9. Häusler, Nadine, et al. "Association of Napping with Incident Cardiovascular Events in a Prospective Cohort Study." Heart, vol. 105, no. 23, 2019, pp. 1793-1798., doi:10.1136/heartjnl-2019-314999

  10. Shaikh, Netasha, and Elizabeth Coulthard. "Nap‐mediated Benefit to Implicit Information Processing Across Age Using an Affective Priming Paradigm." Journal of Sleep Research, vol. 28, no. 1. doi:10.1111/jsr.12728

  11. Rosekind, Mark R., et al. "Crew Factors in Flight Operations 9: Effects of Planned Cockpit Rest on Crew Performance and Alertness in Long-Haul Operations." NASA Technical Reports. September 1994.

  12. "Drowsy Driving." National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

  13. Signal, Tracey Leigh, et al. "Scheduled Napping as a Countermeasure to Sleepiness in Air Traffic Controllers." Journal of Sleep Research, vol. 18, no. 1, 2009, pp. 11-19. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2869.2008.00702.x