While working from home can have its challenges, we’ve also collectively learned many of the perks. Chief among them: the ability to faceplant on your bed or couch and take a nap midday if you need it. But giving in to a nap and doing it *right* is a challenge unto itself.
Kids and toddlers need naps every day, but we’ve deemed naps something that you ‘grow out of’ and when you’re an adult, and taking a nap can feel charged with negativity. Even though adults get tired, sometimes you may resist the urge to catch some shut-eye during the day because you feel “guilty” or don’t want to be seen as lazy. But are naps good for you? It turns out, naps aren’t just for kids, and adults can reap the benefits of napping, too, from better cognition and alertness to reduced stress, according to Meghan Quarles, a health coach at Parsley Health.
In fact, naps should be seen as part of a healthy self-care routine. “Power naps can be very beneficial for adults in need of an energy boost or after a poor night of sleep,” Quarles says. “If you are sleep deprived, feeling groggy, or having difficulty concentrating, a power nap could help. It is perfectly healthy to take a power nap each day to improve cognition, but if you are feeling constantly tired, it’s a good idea to check in with a clinician,” Quarles says. Keep reading to find out why you should ditch the guilt, how to take a nap as an adult, and how to know when your fatigue is a sign of a bigger issue that you should speak to your doctor about.
The health benefits of napping
Better mental agility
Most of us have trouble focusing after a poor night’s sleep. But a 2021 observational study in the online journal General Psychiatry found that napping is linked to better mental agility. In the study, adults took naps for at least 5 minutes, and no longer than two hours after lunch. Study participants that took naps scored higher in cognitive performance tests compared to those who did not nap. (So, are naps good for you? Yes!)
Help reduce stress and boost your mood
Stress is draining, and if you’re stressed and sleep deprived, it’s a recipe for feeling even worse. Since feeling tired or sleep deprived can affect your mood, taking a nap during the day can help you feel more refreshed, which in turn can help boost your mood. Research shows that naps can help people regulate emotions by stopping or reversing negative emotional responses to anger or fear, and help people feel more positive and happy.
May benefit heart health
Researchers found that adults who took 1-2 weekly naps had a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular complications (like heart attack or stroke) compared to people who did not take naps. We know that high, chronic stress levels are bad for your health (and heart health) and we know that lack of sleep is also a risk factor for certain diseases, so it makes sense that naps could be beneficial if you’re often stressed or tired.
How to take a nap as part of your self-care practice
The biggest danger with napping is that if not done properly, it could interfere with your sleep that night. Below, Quarles shares the tips she uses with her members at Parsley Health to help them take the ideal nap.
Pick the right time of day
When you nap is almost more important than the nap itself. You want to avoid taking a nap too late in the day, since that can mess with your nighttime sleep. Even if you are tired around 4 or 5 p.m., that may be too late in the day to nap, according to Quarles. “To ensure you are not impacting your ability to fall asleep later in the night, I recommend napping before 2 p.m.,” she says.
Limit the nap to 20 minutes
“How long should I nap?” is a key question to ask yourself before you hit the pillow, explains Quarles. The key to taking naps that leave you feeling rested and more energized and not hungover or groggy is to take a shorter nap, ideally about 20 minutes. This is to avoid dipping into a deeper sleep stage and waking up in the middle of it, which is what can make you feel more tired. “After sleeping for 30 minutes, you will go into a deep sleep cycle,” Quarles explains. Deep sleep is important at night, but during the day if you interrupt a sleep cycle due to a shorter nap you might wake up feeling worse than before.
Schedule naptime in your calendar
You schedule meetings, social events, and workouts so if you want to make naps a true part of your self-care routine, try scheduling them in your calendar (before 2 p.m.!) and block them off like you would any other important meeting or task. “I recommend blocking this time on your calendar and honoring it as an opportunity to relax and recharge. During the day, it can be tempting to want to be productive, but you will be more efficient and in a better mood if you give yourself this space and time,” Quarles says.
Make your nap environment peaceful and relaxing
Try making your environment as calming as possible during your nap. The point of your nap is to help you relax and recharge, which will be much easier if you have a quiet, dark space free from any clutter. “If naps become part of your routine, it may be a good idea to invest in blackout curtains or an eye mask. White noise machines can also be helpful during the day to help filter out any noise from your environment,” Quarles suggests.
Skip the coffee nap
“Coffee naps,” or drinking a coffee right before you take a nap, is a recent trend that some people swear by for better energy. The idea of a coffee nap is that caffeine has a delayed effect, so once you wake up from your power nap, the caffeine kicks in, and you feel even more energized. The phenomenon can be explained by adenosine, which is a chemical in your brain that increases when you are sleepy. Taking a nap reduces adenosine levels, which makes the caffeine feel more effective at increasing your alertness.
Quarles cautions against coffee naps because not everyone metabolizes caffeine the same way. “While there have been some studies around coffee naps, I do not believe this approach should be universal,” says Quarles. The rate at which you metabolize caffeine is determined in part by the CYP1A2 gene, so some people may feel the effects of caffeine before or during their power nap, explains Quarles. The other issue is that drinking coffee later in the day could potentially interfere with your sleep later that night, again, depending on how fast you metabolize it. “Caffeine has a half-life of 5-7 hours and interferes with your ability to get SWS (slow wave sleep) later in the night,” she says.
Remove all judgment
If you start incorporating naps in your day and find you can’t quite drift off, the nap is not a waste. “It’s okay if you don’t actually fall asleep during this time. Simply resting your eyes, body and mind will yield benefits,” Quarles says. Don’t put pressure on yourself to fall asleep or judge yourself for needing to rest in the first place.
When you might need more than a nap
It’s normal to feel tired every now and then, but if you’re feeling fatigued often, it may be a sign that you should talk to a doctor and make sure the fatigue isn’t linked to a bigger health issue.”If you are getting 7-8 hours of deep, restful sleep per night and eating to balance blood sugar throughout the day, you shouldn’t need a nap,” Quarles says. “If you are finding that you are not feeling rested after 7-8 hours of sleep or experiencing energy swings, I recommend working with a clinician to get to the root cause of your fatigue,” she says.
Each person’s specific issue can vary, but the potential causes could range from “harmful gut bacteria, to environmental toxins, to blood sugar imbalances,” according to Quarles. “At Parsley Health, we are able to investigate symptoms through extensive testing and time with your clinician. Everyone’s story is important and unique,” she adds.