Why Naps Could Really Be Harmful

ScienceOfAPerfectNap_LaurenJohnson-1When we were little, the last thing we wanted to do was take a nap. Now we can’t imagine a day without napping in our favorite spot. But “resting your eyes” may actually be more harmful than helpful.

Sleeping at night (unless you have an unusual schedule) is the best thing. Dr. John Solic, of Mount Nittany Physician Group’s sleep medicine program, says resting at night is recommended for a reason.

“When you sleep at night, your body restores its energy levels by cycling through rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) periods,” Solic says. “For some people, napping during the day can cause you to have less sleep cycles at night, which can affect your body’s ability to strengthen and build bone and muscle, strengthen the immune system and repair or regenerate tissues.”

Yikes. Guess Mom was right about always getting enough sleep at night. It’s tempting to take naps during the day especially if you want to catch up on the sleep you missed out on due to an all-nighter but Solic says that can actually be counter-productive.

“Some individuals believe that if they take one or two longer naps throughout the day, this will make up for only sleeping a few hours in the evening, but this is not the case,” he says. “Our bodies need uninterrupted sleep to completely rejuvenate.”

Okay, so getting those seven or eight hours is super important but is it that urgent? Solic says napping can lead to a vicious cycle of insomnia that turns into a desire to nap during the day even more that leads to less sleep at night and on and on…you get the picture.

Solic also says that excessive fatigue and the desire to nap during the day could be a clue into health problems.

“If you’re experiencing excessive sleepiness during the day, an underlying health concern may be to blame,” he says. “It’s best to speak with your physician so disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea can be ruled out.”

Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common form of sleep apnea, which is when your breathing can become very shallow or even stop while you’re asleep. If you’re super sleepy during the day a lot, it can also mean you have another sleeping disorder or other underlying health concern. So pay attention to your sleeping habits. They may be trying to tell you something.

But Solic does say that some people could actually benefit from a short nap during the day.

“Individuals who work odd shifts (not the typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) may benefit from a quick nap during the daytime,” he says.  “It’s also recommended that people take a 20 to 30 minute nap if they find themselves driving long hours during the day, as this can help prevent unnecessary crashes from drowsiness.”

Be mindful about your napping and the reasons why you’re so desperate to shut your eyes. You may need a change in your overall daily routine or see your doctor. But it’s still perfectly natural to feel jealous of your cat that gets to sleep all day every day.

Photo by Lauren Johnson