To Nap or Not to Nap?

As a college student, I see signs of sleep deprivation everywhere: fellow students claiming to have pulled an all-nighter to study or complaining that they haven’t slept at all in three days or, most commonly, bragging about the three hour nap they took after class. I am most guilty of the third thing on this list, and I pride myself on taking long naps. After a tiring day of classes, it is so tempting to just curl up in bed and sleep for a while. But at the end of it, I often find myself waking up groggy and less energetic than when I started. In addition, napping tends to make it harder for me to fall asleep at night. So, what’s the big deal with naps, then? Do naps benefit our sleep or harm it? If there are benefits, how do we nap properly in order to obtain those benefits?napping-memory-test_full_600

I’m here to tell you the good news: there are many benefits to be gained from taking naps. Most of the research I found detailed the positive impacts of taking naps on everything from memory to emotional stability—yes, naps can even help keep you calm. A study done in 2015 found a correlation between napping and the ability to handle frustration. In this study, researchers took 40 subjects and split them into randomized groups of “nappers” and “non-nappers.” After taking just an hour-long nap, those in the “napper” group reported feeling less impulsive and were better able to cope with feelings of frustration. So whenever you’re feeling cranky and unable to handle your negative emotions, a nap may be just the thing you need.

Improvement in memory is another benefit of napping, and one that is well documented. According to this article, multiple studies have shown the different ways that napping improves memory. In this study, participants were asked to partake in a visual test, and researchers found that those who took a 60 to 90 minute nap actually did about the same on the test as those who got a full night of sleep. This could mean that taking a nap may have the same benefits as getting a full night’s sleep before a test (However, I would not recommend sacrificing a good night’s rest before a test in favor of a nap.)

Napping improves other types of memory as well. In another study, researchers gave participants a word recall test that involved both memorizing single words as well as word pairs. Those who had taken a 90-minute nap beforehand were on par with those who didn’t nap for the single word recall, but performed much better when it came to remembering the word pairs. This study indicates that napping can help improve associative memory.

So now that we have established that naps can give us some great benefits, how do we use naps to our advantage? Like I mentioned before, I often find myself groggy and tired after a nap. This is largely due to a phenomenon known as sleep inertia. Sleep inertia is induced when taking a nap longer than around a half hour and can reduce the ability to think upon waking up. This makes the benefits of such longer naps unable to be felt until some time after the nap has ended. To prevent sleep inertia, it is wise to time your naps so that they are less than 30 minutes. This short YouTube video details how to take the perfect nap.01-tricks-taking-nap-alarm-clock

Overall, naps are great—they can help us feel better emotionally and perform better on tests. However, naps can also cause some unwanted side effects if not taken correctly. These side effects can include grogginess and tiredness, which are feelings that people take naps precisely to avoid. So, when it comes to napping, it is best to nap wisely.

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6 thoughts on “To Nap or Not to Nap?

  1. Olivia Helen Dearment

    This is very relevant to me since practically everyday I come home from class to nap. Even though it is one of my favorite parts of the day, I do agree that I most often wake up confused or out of it worse than before I took the nap. Additionally, for me, one hour long naps won’t do it for me; I have to take like a three hour nap before I am satisfied. The video you posted really gave me some new knowledge on the topic as well, I didn’t know there were so many logistics to sleeping! It also reminded me of the different REMS of sleep we have, whether it be deep or light sleep during naps or the night. Here’s an article I found on it!

  2. William Joseph Robbins-cole

    Just like everyone else who seems to be commenting I love a good nap. I have many things about whether naps are good or bad. I’m glad that this blog has been able to give me concrete evidence that my napping, is in fact, a good thing. I read another article by the wall street journal that describes the function of a nap depending on the length. If you are interested you can read the article here.

  3. Daniel J Lehecka

    I love napping! But I totally agree with feeling groggy after you wake up, it’s one of the worst things. It totally kills the good vibes you get from the nap, and you wake up worse then you went to bed. But recently I was reading about an app that measures your sleep cycle and will wake you up at a good point to avoid grogginess. If you want to look into the app, their website is here It was just something that I found interesting and you can give it a go if you want.

    1. Margaret Eppinger Post author

      That app is pretty crazy, I’ve never seen that before. It kind of reminds me of those fitbits that can track your sleep cycle. I think it’s really weird to think that an app on our phones can actually tell exactly how much sleep we’re getting. What’s even weirder is how it can tell whether our sleep is disturbed or not or what phase of sleep we’re in. The technology in the app is pretty incredible to think about, as it actually keeps track of your breathing and movement to be able to determine how well you’re sleeping. I wonder where the line is with this kind of stuff–is an app like this helpful or kind of invasive?

  4. Beza Yoseph

    As an avid napper, I am very happy to see a blog post about the benefits of napping! One thing that came to mind when reading this was this idea of polyphasic sleeping, which is basically sleeping in small naps throughout the day instead of getting 7-8 hours at night. The goal is to sleep less and create more productive hours in the day to acomplish more. This Buzzfeed video explains it really well I think it also goes well with some of the ideas that your blog hits on. Personally, I do feel like naps before tests help me perform better, so nap on my friend! I know I will!

    1. Margaret Eppinger Post author

      That video was super interesting, I had actually not heard of polyphasic sleeping before! I remember learning that the way we sleep currently, as in straight through the night for about eight hours, is not a good way to sleep, and that we should actually break up our sleep. What was interesting to me about the polyphasic sleeping is that you break it up a lot more than what I would have expected. I wonder if sleeping for just four hours and then taking two twenty-minute naps is really effective (like for the guy consulted in the video), or would it be harmful in the long run? Maybe there will be more studies done on this issue. Sleep is so much more complicated than we think, I believe.

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