Is having an afternoon power nap good or bad for you? Experts weigh in on the debate

Do you ever feel guilty about napping? Are you worried they are bad for your overall sleep health? We asked sleep experts for the full lowdown on napping to get some answers.

I have a secret to share: I’m a napper. I nap after work. I disco nap before a big night out. I nap on lazy weekend afternoons. I nap in the park instead of reading my book. 

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t do it everyday (and I’d advise anyone who does doze off on a daily basis chat to their GP). But if I’m feeling tired, especially in this heatwave, I’ll easily nod off for half an hour or so. And yet, I’m always too embarrassed to tell people this. 

For some reason, I’ve always thought naps are bad for us; they mean I’m lazy, wasting time and have an unhealthy sleep pattern. Friends have confirmed this by pulling faces at me and proudly declaring they never nap.

But are naps actually bad for us? What does the research say?

In a recent interview on The Joe Wicks Podcast, Louis Theroux admitted to taking daily naps – and Wicks agreed that, although usually considered as being the “wrong” thing to do, naps can be good for physical and mental health. 

This prompted me to put it to the sleep experts to find out more.

According to James Wilson, aka The Sleep Geek, naps are good for improving our performance, productivity and our alertness. 

This supports research in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, which reports that people who nap for 30-90 minutes have better word recall – a sign of good memory.

However, if you want to have a good night’s sleep, Wilson doesn’t recommend napping for any longer than half an hour, especially after 3pm. 

“If you are napping and want to get the most out of it without upsetting your night time sleep, then nap for no more than 30 minutes,” he tells Stylist

“This is what’s known as a power nap: it will give you an increase in alertness and productivity, and they can be a god send to shift workers, parents of young children and for some of the athletes I work with.”

He warns: “When you start getting to an hour and a half or more, that becomes more of a day time sleep and is more likely to impact on your night time sleep.”

Sally Bonser from sleep specialist brand nanu also agrees that naps can be incredibly important for our overall health, explaining that it can help reduce stress and even keep your heart healthy. 

In fact, just last year, the NHS shared research from University Hospital of Lausanne in Switzerland, which showed that afternoon naps may lower heart attack and stroke risk. 

“While we do still recommend that you aim for the seven to nine hours a night mark, there is certainly a place for naps during the day,” says Bonser. “If you’ve had a disturbed sleep the night before or even just feel you need a little rest, we see no harm in having a snooze in the daytime.”

Like Wilson, she says the best time to take a nap is between 2pm and 3pm, when our energy starts to lag. But, she argues to only nap for 20 minutes maximum, so that “you get the quality REM sleep as a quick boost, but not a deep sleep”. 

To help keep track, she suggests setting an alarm rather than letting your body to wake itself up.

So there we have it: there is no shame in having a nap. However, it’s clear that we should try not to nap or any longer than 30 minutes and not after 3pm. It’s important to be strict with the timing too, perhaps with the help of an alarm. 

Happy napping!

Images: Getty

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