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To Nap or not to Nap?

Updated: Aug 27, 2023

Are naps bad for you? Should you nap if you feel tired, or wait until bedtime? Some people drop off unintentionally and this can happen at the wrong time of day, causing sleep problems later that night and giving napping a bad name. Everyone seems to have an opinion!!

But naps, when they are planned and understood, can help lots of people manage their chronic illness, and napping could work for you! Let's dive in to learn more about the "do"s and "don't"s.

How is your sleep in general? If you have regular difficulty getting to sleep, or staying asleep then proceed with a little caution. It may be better to spend some time working on the quality and duration of your night-time sleep rather than catnapping to "make do".

We all cycle through times of more or less energy, but if you have started to need a nap most days, and if this is new for you, make time to bring this to the attention of your doctor or relevant healthcare provider. It could signal the need to check you over for sleep issues such as sleep apnoea which could add up to serious health problems over time.

Getting the balance between waking refreshed from a nap and not impacting on nighttime sleep is the essence of successful napping. Matching your nap type to your health need can maximise the power of napping for you!

What is your health or energy need?

  1. I want to feel more alert : you need ….. a power nap of between 10 and 30 minutes. The first 20 or 30 minutes of sleep consists of lighter phases of sleep. By waking up before you enter deep sleep, you can avail of a boost in alertness, without experiencing the grogginess that can arise in a longer nap. Short power naps are also mood enhancing! To stop yourself going into deeper sleep stages, set an alarm and you can also see if you can drop off in a semi reclined position rather than lying fully flat.

  2. I slept terribly last night: you need …… a 90 minute nap. While a power nap will help you with alertness and might be enough to see you through until bedtime, a nap of 90 minutes will include a full sleep cycle and will go some way to making up for sleep loss. Sleeping for less than 90 minutes but more than 25 may mean waking up in the middle of a deep sleep phase leading to foggy-headedness on waking - known as sleep inertia. For those with disrupted sleep due to shift work, a ninety minute nap ahead of the shift can enhance work performance and the benefit is particularly felt in the latter half of the shift, when people often report the going to be more difficult.

  3. I'm crashing, or I need to fight off an infection: you need.... to sleep where you can get it. Sleep is marvellous medicine and supports our immune system. Consequently, when we are unwell, such as when we are fighting an infection, our bodies signal it to us and we become more sleepy. In the first few days of an illness sleep as much as you feel you need up to. As you start to recover, you can then limit your sleep time in the 6-8 hours before your bedtime to begin to restore your sleep-wake cycle. Explore alternative ways to rest without sleep in the evening.

  4. I can't get enough sleep at night: you need ….. to focus on consolidating your night sleep. While day time napping works well for occasional or temporary sleep loss, there is a different quality to sleep gained in a consolidated way at night in all sorts of ways - thinking skills, blood pressure regulation, hormone regulation and more. An Occupational Therapist or another sleep practitioner may be able to support you in improving your night sleep and this would be a better choice in this situation than napping.

  5. I'm tired but struggle to nap: you need….. an alternative rest method. Although in modern life we are encouraged to "go, go, go", filling our days to capacity, in truth this is not healthy for our bodies or minds, and this is particularly so if managing a chronic illness, in a period of recuperation from surgery or other health event, or even if going through a stressful life event such as bereavement. Finding ways to rest that work for you and losing the guilt about the need for rest are two things that come up again and again with my clients. Rest is individual and while some may choose meditation or breathwork, others may find bubblegum TV or listening to music to be just as relaxing. Others still, perhaps those with joint pain find the physical position of alleviating those joints to be the most important part of rest for them, and actually find resting to be more effective than napping as they can adjust position as throughout their rest period rather than awaking stiff and sore.

So........ to nap or not? Well that is up to you! Reflect on where sleep or napping can support your overall energy levels, but don't use naps as sticking plasters for long term sleep difficulties without really trying to maximise your night time sleep.

Contact us at The Brí Clinic to make an appointment if you want to hear more, or if you need personal support around this topic

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