Dogs and cats love to nap. So did Da Vinci, who reportedly got 20 minutes of shut-eye every four hours. So what could be wrong with napping? Apparently a lot—at least, if you scan the published research. If you feel the need to take frequent naps, napping can be a sign of future health problems to come.
Studies have linked regular daytime napping with an elevated risk for type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and death. One 2014 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found napping for an hour or longer each day is associated with a 32-percent spike in mortality risk.So does that mean napping is the newcigarettes? Not even close, says Michael Grandner, Ph.D., director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona.Grandner describes napping as a symptom of a problem—not a problem in itself. “In many cases, people who nap do so because their sleep is poor at nightand they can’t maintain wakefulness during the day,” he explains. (If you fall into this category, check out our 5 tips to sleep better at night.)
Of course, insomnia is linked to all sorts of health problems, from Alzheimer’s to obesity.
But if you’re a walking zombie during the day even when you think you got a good night’s sleep, an underlying health condition (such as sleep apnea) could be to blame, Grandner says.
If you nap for 60 minutes or longer, that’s a sign something’s not right with your sleep or your health, Grandner says.
While a prolonged daytime snooze could signal trouble, Grandner says a quick power nap (think 20 to 30 minutes) can provide a range of “performance” benefits.
Assuming that your nap is “by choice,” a little sleep can boost both your thinking and your physical coordination, he explains.
The key is not to lie down for too long.
While naps that last less than an hour tend to be restorative and beneficial, napping for longer periods dunks your brain and body into the “deep stages of sleep,” he explains. Descend into those deep stages, and you’re likely to wake up feeling groggy and out of it.
Overlong naps may also disrupt your body’s internal circadian clocks. That could cause your appetite and energy levels to spike at odd times, or worsen your nighttime sleep struggles.
When The Need To Nap Is Genetic
For some people—maybe up to 40 percent of the population—taking a daily power nap is the only way for them to feel and perform at their best, says Sara Mednick, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside and author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life.
Mednick refers to these people as “habitual nappers,” and says their need to nap may be genetic. Without a daily snooze, she says, these individuals tend to need coffee, energy drinks, or some other artificial pick-me-up in order to stay sharp and productive.
How can you figure out if you’re one of these people? Simple. When you shut your eyes for a nap, if you tend to wake up on your own after 20 to 30 minutes and you feel refreshed and reinvigorated, you’re probably a habitual napper, she says.
For non-habitual nappers, daytime sleep requires setting an alarm, and tends to leave you feeling groggy and out-of-it.
Whether you’re a habitual napper or you’re napping due to exhaustion, napping itself is almost never a bad thing — especially if your 20 minutes of shut-eye is replacing an afternoon double-espresso or Red Bull. That’s a healthy swap, Mednick says. (Those stimulants won’t refresh your brain and body the way a short snooze would, she adds.)
On the other hand, if you’re struggling with insomnia and you’re treating your lack of nighttime ZZZs with a long daytime siesta, your reliance on naps may be making it more difficult for you to fall asleep at night, Grandner says.
It won’t be easy. But skipping your nap—and replacing it with some exercise—will improve your odds of sleeping soundly tonight.