Napping: Medicine for the Weary

Sleep deprivation is nothing new. It seems our ever-busier lives impact our ability to sleep a full 8 hours at night, or even sleep at all. So how do you catch up? If you are lucky, maybe you can pay back your sleep debt with a quick nap. Check out the information on how to effectively make yourself feel better and be more productive.

The Benefits of Napping

Our bodies run on something called circadian rhythm (biological clock). Most times during the day, our bodies and minds are alert. Other times however, alertness fades and our biological clock prepares our bodies for sleep. When this happens, you may feel tired. It happens at night, and in most adults, in the early afternoon.

What can napping do for you? There is much evidence to support that a nap for 20-30 minutes can improve your:

  • Alertness
  • Logical reasoning
  • Reaction time
  • Energy level

Napping may also have long term benefits. A large study in countries where siestas are common showed that midday napping decreased the chances of death from coronary heart disease.

Timing is everything

Using your body's clock is the best way to determine when the time is right for you. As mentioned above, early afternoon fatigue is common. But a late afternoon nap may make you more tired than you were before your nap, or may keep you awake at night.

When you find the right time, how long is the ideal nap? Most experts say anything less than 30 minutes will improve alertness. Anything longer can put you into a deeper sleep that makes you feel groggy for the rest of the day.

It is important to listen to your body and rest when needed. This can be extremely important if you are doing something that requires your full attention like driving.

If you think about the time of day you feel drowsy, you may be at work. Is there a chance you can take a quick nap?

Workplace Napping

Napping has had a bad rap as a sign of laziness or lack of ambition. However, research has shown that napping can:

  • Make people more productive
  • Help people's brains more quickly sort out important information from things that can be ignored
  • Improve productivity and memory.

Some companies have embraced this research and are taking steps to have "nap rooms" where employees can recharge. These small, quiet dark rooms give employees a comfortable place to catch a few zzzz's.

People who work shifts, especially overnight, are fatigued and have a difficult time performing. A hospital-based study found that a combination of napping before work and caffeine at work improved alertness and performance.

Now you know what a nap can do for you. Find out the best way to make it happen.

Tips for Successful Napping

The experts offer the following tips for incorporating naps into your life:

  • Give yourself permission to nap. Do not feel guilty.
  • Remember all the performance, mood, and health benefits you gain by taking a nap.
  • Avoid caffeine after your morning coffee.
  • Go to a cool, dark, quiet space. You better your chances of falling asleep and waking up faster.
  • Use an alarm clock or timer, so that you will not slip into a deep sleep or worry about when you will wake up (which makes it hard to relax).
  • Nap consistently at the same time every day, even if it is just a quick rest.

Napping and Sleep Disorders

Napping can mask other problems, so if you are napping excessively, contact your doctor. Here are some things that can cause daytime sleepiness:

Keep in mind this does not mean there is a problem. It just means that you have to be aware of the possibilities, especially in older adults.

Lack of sleep causes many problems. Accidents, inability to work productively, and a general feeling of fatigue are just a few. Make sure you are getting enough rest and if you do not, consider taking a quick nap to boost your energy.


National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

National Sleep Foundation


Canadian Sleep Society

The Lung Association


Milner CE, Cote KA. Benefits of napping in healthy adults: impact of nap length, time of day, and experience with napping. J Sleep Res. 2009;18(2):272-281.

Nap your way to the top. Psychology Today website. Available at: Updated June 9, 2016. Accessed August 19, 2016.

Napping. National Sleep Foundation website. Available at: Accessed August 19, 2016.

Naska A, Oikonomou E, Trichopoulou A, Psaltopoulou T, Trichopoulos D. Siesta in healthy adults and coronary mortality in the general population. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(3)296-301.

Sleep deprivation and traffic accidents. Health Guidance website. Available at: Accessed on August 19, 2016.

Last reviewed August 2016 by Michael Woods, MD  Last Updated: 8/19/2016