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Nap Science: Why We Doze and 6 Napping Tips for Sleepy Adults

Few things bring sweeter relief to an exhausted adult than a beloved childhood pastime: the nap. But not all naps are created equal, and they affect everyone in different ways. By taking a closer look at the science behind naps and how they impact the mind and body, you can determine whether they should be part of your routine. Here are some napping tips to help you make the most of your brief dozing sessions.

Why Adults Like to Nap

Napping is relatively common among adults, with about one-third of U.S. adults napping on any given day, according to a 2009 report from the Pew Research Center. Adults take naps for various reasons, including:

  • Afternoon slump recovery
  • Poor sleep duration or quality the previous evening
  • Side effect from consuming certain foods, beverages, supplements, or narcotics
  • Way to boost productivity and/or creativity
  • Way to de-stress and/or promote relaxation
  • Way to improve cognitive performance, such as memory, reaction time, logical reasoning, and symbol recognition
  • Way to increase alertness
  • Emotional regulation

These reasons demonstrate how adults can benefit from naps during the day, but experts still question whether naps are always a positive thing.

When Naps Can Hurt

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), napping could make it more difficult for the individual to fall and stay asleep later that night. Researchers suggest that certain people are more prone to nap than others, and those who aren't prone could wake up groggier than when they initially fell asleep.

Other studies have found conflicting or inconsistent evidence in favor or against all sides of this debate. This has primarily been in relation to whether napping behaviors, or a lack thereof, are linked to elevated C-reactive protein, according to a 2015 study published in Sleep Medicine. C-reactive protein can indicate systemic inflammation, which can lead to a wide range of health complications, such as cancer, diabetes, depression, and heart disease, per the APA.

However, the inconsistency of napping research suggests that more needs to be done before scientists can determine any definitive links.

Napping Tips for Optimum Rest

Here are six tips to help you make the most out of your nap time.

  1. Limit naps to 30 minutes. This keeps you in a light stage of sleep that's less difficult to wake up from.
  2. If time permits, extend naps to 90 minutes. This is the average duration of one full sleep cycle.
  3. For people who work and sleep traditional hours, an ideal afternoon nap takes place around 3 p.m.
  4. Don't nap too closely to your usual bedtime. Wake up at least three hours before you normally go to bed at night.
  5. Limit light and distractions by napping in a dark room with electronics or notifications shut off.
  6. If you regularly need to nap, consider your sleeping habits and quality and duration of your current sleeping schedule. You may identify ways to improve your normal sleep and ward off needing a midday power nap.

Napping is a common activity for many adults and is not necessarily something to avoid, especially when you need the short- and long-term benefits naps can provide. By following these napping tips and discussing any concerns about your sleep habits with your doctor, you'll be well on your way to an optimum sleep schedule.

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