Some people often notice a dip in their concentration and activity after lunch or in the early to mid-afternoon. Is this your body telling you that you need a nap? And is napping a good thing to do – won’t it interfere with your night time sleep?
Should I take naps?
Feeling tired in the early to mid afternoon coincides with a dip in the production of some hormones, and with the body’s slight drop in temperature. This is part of the body’s wake/sleep mechanism – our biological clock.
If you feel the need for a nap, and can safely do so, there’s no reason not to. After all, some countries and cultures build their daily lives around their nap (and meal) times.
How long should I nap for?
In the west we live in a world that is becoming increasingly sleep deprived and not getting enough sleep can be bad for our health (there’s an article on sleep debt here – what it is and how to deal with it). So it would make sense that grabbing an extra hour or 2 here and there would be a good thing.
However, Dr Steven Scharf of Maryland Medical School, Baltimore, says that if you’re going to nap, keep it short. He recommends that day time napping is no longer that 30-45 minutes. If it’s longer than that then you nap may well interfere with night time sleep.
Studies published in 2006 in the journal Sleep concluded that productivity and performance can be improved by just a 10 minute nap in the afternoon. This may work better for some people than a 30 minute sleep because they don’t then have the sleepy ‘hangover’ when they wake up (called sleep inertia).
Should everyone take a daily nap?
Although 7-8 hours’ sleep is recommended for most people, Dr Scharf says there is a great variation in each person’s need for sleep. This variation is also the case during the course of a person’s lifetime.
Not everyone who needs to nap can get one because of their lifestyle.
If you find that you can’t take a nap but are tired in the afternoon, Dr Scharf recommends staying active to counteract this.
If you find yourself reaching for the strong coffee then try to have your last cup no later than 2pm. Caffeine stays in the body for up to 12 hours so can interrupt your night’s sleep.
So, to nap, or not to nap?
Scientists and doctors say it’s fine to nap for a short time (10-45 minutes) in the afternoon if you need to and are able. It’s a good way of adding extra minutes to your sleep total if you’re not getting enough sleep at night.
If you can’t sleep well at night, look at some of the other articles on this site for help and useful suggestions.