By: Sarah Galzerano, Integrated Marketing Specialist, Jefferson Health – New Jersey
Naps – they’re incredibly common, but how do they play a role in our health? Catching some mid-day “Z’s” can be refreshing and help improve focus and productivity, especially after work or a night out; however, if we’re not careful, they may lead to more harm than good.
Naps, in general, aren’t unhealthy, says Jennifer Roszkowski, DO, Sleep Medicine Specialist at Jefferson Health – New Jersey. They’re necessary for some people, such as your average shift worker (healthcare professional, firefighter, or police officer), new mom, or even someone who suffers from narcolepsy.
Healthy adults should get approximately 7 to 9 hours of sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation, explains Dr. Roszkowski. “The benefits of adequate sleep run the gamut, from better memory formation, to problem-solving skills, immunity, healing, hormonal balance, muscle and bone growth, fertility, and more.”
Naps & Sleep Deprivation
Some people can sleep around 6 hours without facing any detriments, but, for most people, less sleep leads to sleep deprivation. Feeling the need to nap throughout the day can be a common side effect of sleep deprivation, says Dr. Roszkowski: “Naps can disrupt your natural sleep cycle and circadian rhythm, especially when they’re long. After you nap, you may not be able to achieve a full night’s sleep, making you feel tired the next day; then it turns into an endless cycle.”
Studies show that chronic sleep deprivation can lead to weakened immunity, trouble concentrating, weight gain, mood changes, insomnia, and general aches and pains, which is why napping on a regular basis isn’t recommended by experts.
Naps & Heart Health
Over the past few years, conflicting evidence has surfaced on naps and their effects on heart health. Some claims state a reduction of heart attack risk, diabetes, and other cardiovascular issues, while others state the opposite.
“There’s simply not enough data available to tell people that a nap will either help or harm the heart,” said Dr. Roszkowski. “What we do know is that when you’re sleeping, your parasympathetic nervous system takes over. You’re in a state of relaxation. Any rest is arguably good for your cardiovascular system, as well as the rest of your body.”
There may be a problem with those who nap multiple times a day and shift back and forth between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems more than normal, notes Dr. Roszkowski, but how exactly this impacts the heart is still largely unknown.
What Does a Healthy Nap Look Like?
The “secret” to a good nap is timing, says Dr. Roszkowski. Most complications that arise from napping are related to napping for too long. There’s nothing wrong with putting your head down for 10-30 minutes to unwind and recharge. Two to three hours, on the other hand, is risky.
“Napping for a long time is actually why many people experience a feeling of grogginess or confusion; they may wake up and don’t know what time it is or where they are,” continued Dr. Roszkowski. “This is called sleep inertia, and it happens when you wake up mid-cycle in a deep stage of sleep or slow-wave sleep. A shorter nap will decrease the chances of this and will likely make you feel much more refreshed.”
If you find yourself napping regularly, it’s important to ask yourself why. Maybe you’re taking a rest after a long day or for cultural reasons (like the afternoon siesta), and that’s okay, explains Dr. Roszkowski. However, if you’re consistently not getting enough sleep at night, you’re bored, or you’re stressed, there may be underlying physical or psychological problems that need to be addressed. When you’re struggling with sleep to the point where it impacts your daily functionality, it’s time to reach out to your doctor, she notes.
“Naps aren’t forbidden. They aren’t always unhealthy, but they can be,” said Dr. Roszkowski. “If you don’t currently take naps, and don’t feel the need to, then there’s no reason to. If you do take naps, just make sure you limit them and speak up if anything seems wrong.”
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