Napping: Should I nap?

Napping has become mainstream news over the past month with Boris Johnson allegedly said to shut his No 10 office door for a half-hour nap between meetings to “get him ready for the rest of the day”. The Times asked And So To Bed’s resident sleep expert for her take on the benefits of napping. You can check it out their 20th January 2021 article. Although taking a nap is not always a good idea, there are a numerous situations where it can be extremely helpful. Even if Boris Johnson is not taking a lunchtime nap between meetings, perhaps he should…

Cute white cat asleep on a red bed.

Naps help you learn

Sleep is important for learning and storing memories. Therefore, a nap can be useful to help you remember things that you learned earlier in the day. A recent study in the journal “Sleep” last month (January 2021) found that people who took a nap following learning showed restored “neural fatigue” and had improved learning ability, compared to people who simply rested without sleeping. A 2003 study in Nature found that a 90 minute nap was as beneficial as a full 8 hours’ sleep for learning (Mednick et al., 2003). If you want to improve your grades, make sure that you schedule in time to sleep well.

Naps for performance

Taking an afternoon nap of around 20 minutes can be beneficial to boost your alertness, reduce sleepiness and improve performance for the remainder of the day (Gillberg et al., 1996). Some companies are beginning to embrace this by providing “nap rooms” for employees to take a short lunchtime nap. In mainland Europe, lunchtime siestas have been part of life for centuries. In Japan, naps at work are so common that they have a name for it “hirune” – which literally translates to a “lunchtime nap”.

Woman at work bored in a meeting

With work schedules more flexible as many people have been forced to work from home over the past year, perhaps it is time to add a lunchtime powernap to your schedule. It may be an unexpected benefit of home working – being able to take a short nap in your own bed.

Are naps and weekend catch-up sleep good enough?

There are times in your life when it is not possible to get enough sleep during the working week – burning the candle at both ends. If you are up late working and getting up too early, then daytime naps and sleeping in at the weekend can help make up for some of your lost sleep. When you have a new baby keeping you up at night, then a daytime nap can be essential! Studies suggest that getting the right amount of sleep every night is much better for you than relying on weekend lie-ins to catch up. However, if you can’t get enough sleep because life is getting in the way, then a nap might be the solution.

Naps and driving

People falling asleep at the wheel is a major cause of car crashes. 2019 statistics for UK road fatalities show that 3-4% of fatal crashes are caused by driver fatigue. Also, a survey by the AA Charitable trust in 2018 found that a shocking 1 in 8 people reported falling asleep at the wheel! You are more likely to fall asleep at the wheel when your body naturally wants to be sleeping – i.e. after lunch (2-4pm) or in the early morning hours (2-6am).

If you are driving and feel that you are getting tired, then it is imperative that you pull over at a service station as soon as possible and take a break. Studies suggest that drinking a caffeinated drink (like a strong coffee) and then taking a 15 minute nap will increase alertness. Lean your car seat back and set your phone alarm for 15-20 minutes so that you don’t sleep for too long. By the time you wake up, the caffeine will have kicked in and you will be refreshed from the nap.

Top nap tips
  • Where possible, nap in your bed. Keeping sleep to the bedroom helps you to sleep well at night as your brain knows that your bedroom is the place where you sleep (instead of on your sofa). Also, your bed is the ideal environment for sleep with a comfortable bed and mattress - an essential component of a good nap.
  • Nap for a maximum of 20 minutes. If you sleep for more than this, then you will find yourself going into a deeper sleep and will wake feeling groggy. This “sleep inertia” can leave you feeling more tired than you did before the nap.
  • Don’t nap after about 2pm. Even a short nap in the evening can be very harmful for your night’s sleep. If you find yourself nodding off while watching TV in the evening, you might want to look at whether you are getting enough sleep at night.

White bed with blue cushions

For an ideal nap, go up to your bedroom, close the curtains and get under the covers. Set the alarm for 20 minutes. An eye mask and earplugs can be helpful if you are trying to nap when there is a lot of daytime noise and stimulation.

In summary, short power naps can be great to improve your performance, or help boost you when you have not had enough sleep. They can be especially valuable to reduce fatigue that could be dangerous (e.g. when driving). However, if you take long naps, nap too frequently or nap too close to bedtime then this can lead to problems with your sleep at night. Also, if you are regularly struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep at night then it is generally not a good idea to nap. Instead, discuss your sleeping problem with a doctor or qualified sleep professional, and never drive tired!


DR LINDSAY BROWNING from TROUBLE SLEEPING is a sleep expert, Chartered Psychologist and neuroscientist. She is the Sleep Ambassador for And So To Bed. Dr Browning works with INDIVIDUALS and COMPANIES to educate about better sleep and to resolve sleep problems such as insomnia. Her new self-help sleep book, Navigating Sleeplessness is available from the 4th March. You can follow her on TWITTERINSTAGRAM and FACEBOOK.

Posted by Dr Lindsay Browning
19th February 2021

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