The Science Of Napping: What A Midday Snooze Can Do For You

It’s been disputed for ages whether or not napping is actually good for you, and depending on time and length a midday snooze may feel either like a rejuvenating blast or a car crash.

Opinions vary, obviously, but the science of napping and its benefits does too.

Luckily for nap lovers, most studies conclude that napping is actually a good thing for body and brain — though the quicker the nap, the better.

Nap culture

Humans are in the minority of mammals that sleep only once a day (85% sleep twice or more). This prompts the question of whether our habits are natural, or societal.

Either way, more and more humans are embracing the midday nap as part of daily routine, one that is increasingly encouraged by businesses to increase productivity — a policy most recently adopted by some Japanese companies.


The post-lunch “siesta,” a concept common in Spain and Latin American countries, has also become normalized in the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, India, Southern Italy, Greece, Croatia, Malta, the Middle East, and North Africa.

It’s called the bhat-gum (meaning rice sleep) in Bangladesh, and wujiao in China.

The all-powerful power nap

Called a power nap for good reason, this sort of sleep session is typically 10-30 minutes long, and has been found to be most effective between 1pm and 4pm where it won’t interfere with a person’s sleep schedule.

Numerous studies have proven the benefits of this type of nap:

  • A 1995 NASA study found nappers had improved performance, vigilance, and reaction time upon waking

  • A 2006 study found naps of less than 30 min duration during the day promoted wakefulness and enhanced performance and learning ability

  • A 2007 study found regular power-nappers 37 percent less likely to die of heart-related illness

  • A study of napping doctors and nurses found nappers reported less fatigue, more vigor, and had fewer performance lapses after napping

Very short naps, called “ultra-short sleep episodes” at about 6 minutes or less in length, have also been found to be effective in improving memory.

This result, researchers say, implies that even just the onset of sleep initiates “active processes of consolidation which – once triggered – remain effective even if sleep is terminated shortly thereafter.”

And as for long naps?

Naps at length of an hour plus are not always advisable, though they are thought to improve alertness for up to ten hours.

Sara Mednick, author of “Take a Nap! Change Your Life” writes that 60 minute naps improve cognitive memory processing; io9 adds that this is because deep, slow-wave sleep helps us recall names, faces, etc.[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”r1e7uUiJtEFbleMTK6fHNL8B5SicqVS0″]

As for 90 minute naps — a complete sleep cycle — Mednick says this type of sleep helps improve creativity and emotional and procedural memory.

A 2008 study found that 60-90 minute naps were better than caffeine in improving verbal memory, motor skills and perceptual learning. Granted a cup of coffee is quicker, and less likely to disrupt your body’s natural cycle.

The downside

Though there may be some benefits to longer naps, others call over-napping a serious don’t. In general, longer naps can leave nappers disoriented upon waking, resulting in a grogginess that could last 30 or more minutes.

Other studies found that habitual nappers were more prone to early deaths and diabetes, and more so if those naps were over an hour long.

Napping also is generally considered a bad idea for people with depression or insomnia, as it could worsen symptoms and make nightly sleep more difficult.

American nap revolution?

Photo courtesy of Sellon Kirjasto via Flickr.

Not everyone may be down with the nap just yet, but American businesses are slowly catching on.

For example, company MetroNaps has created what they call an EnergyPod, inside which workers can take timed naps, lulled by peaceful sounds and a comfortable interior. Google notably puts these pods to good use.

Other companies that encourage napping are Nike, the Huffington Post, Procter & Gamble, and Cisco Systems. There are also napping spas — one of such is Yelo in downtown Manhattan, which has served Hearst, Time Warner, and Newsweek for naps at $1 a minute.

Updated. Cover photo courtesy of Donald Hines, modified by Curiousmatic.

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