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The truth about napping

You dreaded it in kindergarten, but now you dream about a nap every day after lunch. Is napping beneficial or could it affect your nighttime slumber? Aris Iatridis, M.D., a sleep medicine specialist and pulmonologist at Piedmont, shares the truth about napping.

“If you get drowsy after lunch or in the afternoon, the best thing you can do is take a nap,” says Dr. Iatridis. “It will help you feel more refreshed.”

Our physiology plays a role in our desire for a siesta.

“There have been medical studies that look at the level of people’s alertness over a 24-hour cycle,” he explains. “People are usually the sleepiest around 5 a.m. and 3 p.m.”

Health benefits of napping

Napping has some pretty great health benefits. It can:

  • Brighten your mood. A quick nap can help combat irritability caused by sleepiness.
  • Decrease drowsy driving. Drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says as many as 6,000 fatal car crashes every year may be caused by drowsy drivers. While you should always aim for a full night’s sleep, a short nap can increase your short-term alertness.
  • Help you catch up on sleep. “You can pay back ‘sleep debt’ when you take naps or sleep in on the weekend,” says Dr. Iatridis.
  • Increase energy and productivity. A NASA study found that a 40-minute nap boosted alertness by 100 percent and performance by 34 percent in tired astronauts and military pilots.
  • Reduce stress. A quick afternoon nap can reduce your daily stress, which lowers your heart disease risk.

Can naps disrupt nighttime sleep?

If you limit your nap to 20 to 60 minutes and don’t sleep too late in the day, a nap shouldn’t affect your nighttime rest.

The best place to nap

“The best place to nap is your bed and the darker the room, the better,” says Dr. Iatridis. “This helps you develop an association between sleep and one location.”

He adds, “Many people with insomnia try sleeping elsewhere besides their bed, but this is one of the worst sleep hygiene habits.”

Listen to your body

“Honor your body and listen to what it is telling you,” says Dr. Iatridis. “Sleep is a physiological function your body needs to operate in an optimal fashion.”

If you are napping too much or are constantly sleepy, there may be something else going on. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about your sleep.

Learn how to get your best night’s sleep ever.

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