A study on napping caught my eye recently. It says that taking regular naps can make your brain sharper. Now I could do with a sharper brain. But here’s the thing: I don’t fancy siestas too much because I end up feeling sick when I wake up. Worse, it messes with my night-time sleep. So as usual, I went down the NCBI rabbit hole to look at naps from a scientific lens. Are there any benefits to napping or is it just a waste of time?
What counts as a nap?
Nap is a short sleep break taken during the day. Reasons for taking a nap could be to make up for sleep deficit, to recover from fatigue or an illness or simply for fun.
Babies and seniors tend to nap more than young adults.
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There are some established benefits of napping that go beyond shaking off excessive sleepiness. Regular siestas improve memory, learning skills and even emotional stability (I can do with all three).
The benefits of napping
Naps are good for your memory. If you are sleep deprived, your working memory gets affected. Taking a mid-day nap can set things right by aiding its recovery.
Naps improve your learning abilities. There’s overwhelming evidence that regular siestas can help in cognitive functions and learning abilities. So if you are struggling with grasping a new subject or a skill, naps may help.
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Napping improves your mood. This one is a no brainer. The more sleep you get, the better your mood.
Naps may give you better control over your emotions says a 2015 study by the University of Michigan. The researchers found that people who had a 60-minute midday nap were less impulsive and showed fewer signs of frustration.
In children, napping can help in emotion processing. A 2018 study by scientists at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst says that a combination of naps and overnight sleep can benefit memory in early childhood.
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So these were the supposed benefits. What about the harms you ask? Glad you asked.
The hazards of napping
Daytime sleeping is associated with an increased incidence of cardiovascular disease, says a 2019 study published in Sleep Medicine. The participants of the study who took longer naps were at higher risk of heart diseases than those who took shorter, irregular or no naps at all.
Siestas may also lead to an increased risk of hypertension. A 2014 study from China noted that longer afternoon naps show some connection with higher blood pressure.
Seniors and middle-aged people who take longer naps are at risk of microvascular diseases caused by narrowing of the small blood vessel.
On one hand, a study that shows a correlation between napping and improved mood; on the other, some also say that naps can be detrimental to mental health. Some say that excessive daytime sleepiness may also be an indicator of depression.
Longer naps in the afternoon could be a risk factor for type 2 diabetes and higher blood glucose levels, according to this Chinese study.
Saving the worst for the last, napping is also associated with a higher mortality rate. In the study, the researchers hypothesised that falling blood pressure during afternoon naps may increase cardiovascular and cerebrovascular problems. While they could see a positive correlation, researchers also stated that the association is not necessarily causal.