The Mexicans love an afternoon siesta, as do Mediterraneans. But what impact does napping have on your health? Online personal trainer Andrew Cate investigates the pros and cons of the afternoon nap.
The benefits of napping
Napping is no longer just a domain for small children and older people. There is a wide range of scientific research to show that an afternoon doze can offer a variety of proven benefits.
Taking a nap gives you a break from the stresses of life, and can leave you feeling refreshed and more focused. Research1 has shown that naps can significantly reduce levels of stress hormones.
Improved work performance A recent study measured the performance of volunteers before and after a 30 minute nap, a 60 minute nap, and a control group who didn't nap. Those who slept for 60 minutes showed a dramatic improvement in performance, while the un-rested control group deteriorated. The performance of the 30 minute nap group didn't deteriorate, but it also didn’t improve. Research such as this has led to the growing trend of businesses installing nap pods to increase the productivity of sleep-deprived workers.
Reduced risk of heart disease A mid-afternoon nap has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. A study  on over 28,000 people over six years found that those who took naps of any frequency and duration had a 34 per cent lower risk of heart disease than those who did not take midday naps.
Tips for a good nap
- Nap eight hours after waking
Many people experience a feeling of drowsiness in early afternoon. This is often around eight hours after waking, and is the ideal time to take a nap. If you nap too late in the day, it might affect the quality of your nighttime sleep, while it can be difficult to fall asleep if you try to nap earlier in the day.
- Nap for the right length of time
A short nap is usually recommended (between 20-30 minutes), although longer naps may be beneficial if you are significantly sleep deprived. Nap for too long, and it may adversely affect the length and quality of your nighttime sleep. It is also important to allow at least 5-10 minutes after your nap to overcome any initial period of drowsiness.
- Nap in the right place
It's important to feel comfortable in your surroundings if you are going to sleep. Try to limit the amount of light and noise using ear plugs and an eye mask if necessary. The room should also be cool and well ventilated for optimal sleep.
- Nap if you are sleep deprived, but not if you have insomnia
If you have a sleep debt from the previous evening, you will most likely benefit from an afternoon nap. But if you have trouble falling asleep at night, napping will only amplify the problem. Your doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist if you have chronic insomnia.
Natural sleep solutions
If you are experiencing difficulty sleeping, sedative herbs such as valerian may help. Taken an hour before going to bed, valerian has traditionally been used to aid relaxation and improve sleep quality amongst habitually poor and irregular sleepers.
1. Lahl O, C et al. An ultra short episode of sleep is sufficient to promote declarative memory performance. J Sleep Res, 2008; 17: 3–10. http://www.reutershealth.com/archive/2008/08/14/eline/links/20080814elin005.html
2. Mednick, C et al. The restorative effect of naps on perceptual deterioration. Nature Neuroscience, 2002; 5: 677– 681. http://www.reutershealth.com/archive/2008/08/14/eline/links/20080814elin005.html
3. Naska, A et al. Siesta in Healthy Adults and Coronary Mortality in the General Population. Arch Intern Med, 2007; 167: 296-301. http://www.reutershealth.com/archive/2008/08/14/eline/links/20080814elin005.html