Mental And Physical Health Effects Of Naps

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated May 29, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

What are the mental and physical health effects of naps? Researchers have set out to answer this question, with recent studies revealing that napping could reduce stress, boost the immune system, and increase physical stamina. Planning your nap around your circadian rhythm can help you get the maximum advantage out of napping without being groggy when you wake up. Most people can benefit from an afternoon nap that lasts for 15 to 30 minutes. For professional help with sleep-related concerns, consult a licensed therapist in person or online.

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The power of naps 

A nap is typically defined as a brief period of sleep, usually taking place during the day. A nap normally refers to a period of 15 to 30 minutes of sleep. After about an hour, the brain may enter deeper phases of the sleep cycle.

Humans usually go through four sleep stages at night, including three stages of non-rapid eye movement sleep and one stage of rapid eye movement sleep (REM). During the slow wave sleep cycle, also called deep sleep, the brain is generally at its deepest level of restorative relaxation. The brain can expel waste products, regulate hormones, grow and repair tissues, and develop stronger immune responses during this time. 

The importance of sleep

Getting enough sleep can be very important for mental clarity, physical health, and adequate energy levels during the day. Sleep scientists have often linked taking an afternoon nap to reduced stress levels, better memory and focus, and improved physical health. 

Being sleep-deprived can make it difficult to be efficient, clear-headed, and alert during the day, but there may be other consequences as well. Insufficient sleep has also been linked to high blood pressure and an increased risk of illness.

When and how long to nap

For adults with a typical daytime work schedule, it is generally recommended to take a roughly 20-minute nap midday to improve mental clarity and alertness. Short naps are usually better than longer naps for workdays because most people wake up with less grogginess and feel more refreshed. 

The circadian rhythm can be defined as the 24-hour cycle that humans experience in terms of energy, sleep, and behavior. Circadian rhythms tend to be impacted by light and other external environmental factors and can vary depending on your “internal clock.” For example, sleeping during the night and being awake during the day can be considered a circadian rhythm. 

Timing your nap with your circadian rhythm can ensure you don’t disturb your nighttime sleep schedule. Why is circadian rhythm important? Research shows that the circadian rhythm can impact your hormone levels, digestion, and body temperature. 

A disturbance in the circadian rhythm can lead to ill digestion, increased stress hormone production, and temperature disturbance. Poor sleep can have these dysregulating effects on the body. 

An example of how circadian rhythm impacts the human body may be jet lag. When you travel across time zones, it can take a few days for your internal clock to adjust. This can lead to sleep and mood disturbances, as well as physical side effects, in the days following traveling. 

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Mental health benefits of napping

Having a healthy sleep schedule can promote better mental health. Here are a few of the potential positive mental health effects of taking a quick afternoon nap.

Enhanced cognitive function

A 2016 study on the benefits of napping for cognitive function found that a moderate-length post-lunch nap during the circadian dip period could improve memory and alertness during the day. The study also found that the cognitive benefits of napping usually lasted at least 24 hours after the nap. Potential cognitive benefits of napping may include improved memory, attention, creativity, and problem-solving abilities. 

Reduced stress

Stress tends to be one of the leading factors contributing to physical and mental illnesses. There is evidence that taking a nap during the day could reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Taking a nap during the day after a sleepless night could reduce cortisol levels, as well as the physical and mental effects of poor sleep. 

Improved emotional resilience

One of the latest studies on the power of naps for stress reduction found that taking naps while going through a stressful experience could reduce the intensity of negative emotions felt about the situation. Researchers generally attributed this to the effect of naps on memory recall and how people perceive situations. Taking a nap before responding to a stressful life situation could have benefits for maintaining a positive mindset and being resilient throughout life’s challenges. 

Boosted productivity

Increased mental clarity and focus from taking an afternoon nap could boost your productivity in the workplace. The afternoon slump following lunchtime can lower productivity levels, but research shows that taking a quick nap can help. Some of the world’s most prominent companies, like Google and NASA, have added dedicated nap spaces to their offices. 

A systematic review and meta-analysis of the available research data on the benefits of naps for productivity found that sleep experts recommend naps for improving creativity, memory, and performance on complex tasks. The researchers suggested that because daytime napping was found to improve cognitive function, midday work naps may be recommended in the future to make workplaces more efficient. 

Physical health benefits of napping

Making an afternoon nap part of your daily schedule can be a part of a healthy lifestyle. Mental and physical health tend to be intricately linked, and getting enough sleep can be essential for both. In the next section, discover some of the physical health effects of napping. 

Better cardiovascular health

Researchers have found that insufficient sleep can contribute to high blood pressure. Sleep can be important for regulating hormone production, and if you do not sleep enough, your body usually can’t regulate hormones efficiently. During sleep, your blood pressure typically lowers, which means that when you miss sleep, you may have higher blood pressure for longer periods of time. 

Over time, the effects of insufficient sleep can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular problems. Sleep deprivation can also contribute to unhealthy behaviors, such as the overconsumption of caffeine, that can contribute to poor heart health. Taking a nap during the day could lower your blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Enhanced immunity

Stress can lower your immune system function and make you more susceptible to physical health conditions. Regulating the production of stress hormones like cortisol by taking naps and getting sufficient rest can help your immune system function at optimal efficiency to protect you from getting sick. 

Although more recent evidence may be needed, a 2011 study concluded that immune cells usually returned to regular levels faster when participants took a 30-minute midday nap. 

Improved athletic energy and performance

Taking naps has frequently been linked to improved physical stamina, athletic performance, and muscle recovery. Studies have found that taking a nap could enhance a workout regime by promoting faster workout recovery. A 35- to 90-minute nap may be ideal for improving energy and performance in sports. 

A 2021 systematic review of the effects of naps on athletic performance set out to answer the question, “To nap or not to nap?” The review states that athletes may want to take a 20- to 90-minute daytime nap to improve their performance, but they should generally allow 30 minutes after waking before playing sports to reduce sleep inertia and reach full alertness. 

Tips for taking better naps

Do you feel groggy when you wake up from a nap, have trouble falling asleep at night if you take a nap, or sleep through important things when you nap? Here are a few tips from sleep experts on improving sleep quality when taking daytime naps. 

Talk therapy can help you get better sleep

The ideal nap duration

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the ideal napping length is generally between 15 minutes and 30 minutes. Anything over an hour, and you may risk having reduced stamina when you wake due to sleep inertia. However, naps can have benefits for mental and physical health, regardless of length. 

To avoid feeling groggy and tired after a nap, try to plan your nap duration to end before a deep sleep cycle or end after a deep sleep cycle. Sleep cycles normally last for about 90 minutes, so try to nap in 20-minute (when the sleep cycle begins) or 90-minute (when the sleep cycle ends) intervals. 

Timing

You should generally try to time your naps around your regular sleep schedule to prevent interrupting your circadian rhythm. For most people, the ideal time to take a nap is in the early afternoon, around 1:00 PM, but no later than 3:00 PM. Taking a nap past 3:00 PM can cause some people to have trouble sleeping at night, but the best time of day to nap for you can vary depending on factors like your schedule, age, medications, and more.

When you wake up, try to plan to have at least 30 minutes to recover from any sleepiness before diving into complex tasks. You may feel a little sluggish immediately following the nap, so it is usually best not to do anything that requires a fast response as soon as you wake up. 

Environment

The best place to take a nap is typically somewhere dark and quiet. You may want to close the curtains or blinds to make the room darker. Removing distractions, such as a cell phone or work computer, from the room can also make it easier to focus on falling asleep. 

Make sure to set an alarm to prevent oversleeping during your nap as well. If you are taking a nap in an office or location other than your bedroom, you may want to consider using an eye mask or headphones to block out distractions while you fall asleep. Too much light and sound could lead to poor sleep quality and reduce the positive effects of napping. 

Benefits of online therapy

If you are experiencing nighttime sleep problems or struggling to take efficient naps, talking to a therapist may help. A sleep therapist can help you establish strategies and coping skills for insomnia and sleep disturbances. Online therapy may be a more accessible option than traditional in-person sessions for treating insomnia because there are usually more flexible scheduling options – for instance, you could schedule a session about an hour before bedtime and practice relaxation techniques with your therapist to help you fall asleep.

Effectiveness of online therapy

Research has found that online CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) can be beneficial for treating insomnia as well as reducing depressive symptoms. Anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and other mental health conditions can make getting a good night’s rest more challenging. Online therapy sessions with an experienced therapist can be an effective way to make progress toward a healthier sleep schedule and overall wellness.

Takeaway

Taking a nap can be a great way to boost your mental clarity, alertness, and mood during the day. For most people, a short nap in the afternoon has the most positive health effects. Adding a midday nap to your daily schedule could have positive impacts on mental and physical health, including relieving stress, lowering blood pressure, and boosting the immune system. A licensed therapist can help you address any concerns related to sleep and mental health through online or in-person therapy sessions.
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