Napping: Short or Long?

Posted By Austin Stout on January 8, 2019

It’s well documented that sleep is a crucial factor in performance, body composition and overall health. Sometimes our sleep is not always sufficient, and we want to get more from our recovery efforts. Naps compliment or normal sleep schedule and have some unique benefits.

Ability to nap depends not only on a person’s schedule but their needs as well. For some a short 5-15 min nap is extremely beneficial and for others a longer 30+ min is better. Research has shown us that different lengths of napping have different benefits. More is not always better. Naps as short as 5-10 minutes can provide a cognitive boost. Not everyone has the ability to lay down for a 30+ minute nap during the day. However, these short power naps are easy to do anywhere. At your desk, in your car, in the break room etc. You don’t have to have a couch or bed to take advantage of short naps.

One study states that “The benefits of brief (5–15 min) naps are almost immediate after the nap and last a limited period (1–3 h). Longer naps (>30 min) can produce impairment from sleep inertia for a short period after waking but then produce improved cognitive performance for a longer period (up to many hours) (Lovato & Lack 2010).” I find this to be pretty accurate from my personal experience. Once I start going much past the 30 minute mark, there seems to be some lag time in the positive impact after waking.

Napping is also relaxing in nature of course. Any type of relaxation is likely to help stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. Naps can be a great way to lower sympathetic drive during the day as well. If you are someone that is very sympathetically driven, then breaking up your day with a short nap to take the edge off can be beneficial.

A common concern with napping is that it will disrupt normally nightly sleep patterns. A study from Harvard Health found the following. “Participants found it harder to adhere to the two-hour nap schedule, but neither long naps nor short naps disrupted nighttime sleep or led to daytime sleepiness. Napping increased the time spent in slow-wave and rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep, which are thought to play important roles in restoring the body and brain. Whether they took long naps or short naps, participants showed significant improvement on three of the four tests in the study’s cognitive-assessment battery (Harvard Health Publishing 2011).”

Timing of naps may play into this. It seems from the research the early afternoon naps are the best in terms of effectiveness and not disrupting normal sleep patterns. However, this will usually boil down to the person schedule. If you are worried about napping disrupting nighttime sleep patterns, then I would suggest starting with shorter naps further away from bed time if possible.
If you are considering adding naps into your day to enhance your recovery game, then this may help you decide if short or long naps are right for now. Of course, any nap is probably better than no nap for most people so don’t think those super short power naps are a waste of time. They are usually going to add much more productivity and positivity into your day when its all said and done.

Harvard Health Publishing. “The Benefits of Napping.” Harvard Health Blog, Harvard Health Publishing, 2011, www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/the-benefits-of-napping.
Lovato, N, and L Lack. “The Effects of Napping on Cognitive Functioning.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21075238?fbclid=IwAR0wjuZkMQM0pLdfa6xet4WC7XxL3K2cTksHxPX569rQzsOoKxu5tKmKBFY.

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