A woman curled up, napping, in a pile of pillows

To Nap or Not to Nap?

Last updated: November 2021

Since my diagnosis of narcolepsy type 2, I have learned the importance of sleep.

A few years ago, I came across the book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, Ph.D., and with each passing word, I became more fascinated. This sparked a passion in me to educate others about this nightly escapade to a wonderful world of dreams.

How do you feel about afternoon naps?

Walker discusses the idea of adding daily naps to our routine. I would have considered myself a napper long before my diagnosis. Through my childhood and adolescent years, I would nap after school. College years weren't much different other than adding coffee to my diet. Reading this book and being surrounded by sleep-deprived college students, a question came to mind.

Before you grab that second cup of coffee, have you considered taking an afternoon siesta? When given the 2 options, napping isn't usually the choice among adults. I would like to share some information about the benefits of napping. First, let's take a look at how choosing that cup of coffee affects your sleep.

Caffeine and sleep

According to Caffeine: Sleep and Daytime Sleepiness, "The risks to sleep and alertness of regular caffeine use are greatly underestimated by both the general population and physicians."1

There was a study in healthy young men that aimed to compare the effects of caffeine similar to that of people who suffer from insomnia. The scientists administered 400 mg of caffeine 3 times a day for 7 consecutive days. They concluded the men not only had less time asleep, but they also took longer to fall asleep. Stage 4 REM (rapid eye movement) sleep was also reduced. This is when the brain dreams, memories are stored, and information is cemented into memory.2

Napping for your mood

Do you ever notice how grumpy a young child is when it is getting close to nap time? Adults may not be so different. One study involved 40 people who were randomly placed into a nap or no-nap condition. Participants were asked to measure their emotional control and impulsivity after completing certain tasks.3

Results showed that participants who did not have the opportunity to nap were less willing to endure frustration due to an unsolvable task and reported feeling more impulsive. On the other hand, participants who napped showed increased tolerance for frustration on the unsolvable task compared to baseline and reported feeling less impulsive.3

These results suggest that emotional control may become impaired from long waking hours, and choosing to nap might save you from that temper tantrum.

Napping for your brain

According to the American Psychological Association, Matthew Walker and colleagues recruited volunteers to strain their associative memories by learning a long list of pairing exercises.4,5

At the beginning of the day, all participants were given a round of pairings. That afternoon, half the participants took 90-minute naps while the other half stayed awake playing board games or reading. In the evening, the participants were given a new round of pairings. Those who hadn't napped did not perform as well on the evening test as they had in the morning. However, those who did nap scored better on the later test, suggesting the sleep had boosted their capacity for learning.4,5

Give it a try!

Some people say naps aren't for everyone. While I am not a medical professional, I tend to argue that statement. There have been even more studies than the ones I have mentioned revolving around the benefits of naps. If they are timed right and added to your daily routine, naps can be very helpful!

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