Are Naps Good for You?

Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Reviewed by Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Written by Hadley Mendelsohn

Published 04/17/2024

The jury’s still out, but things are looking good for all you nappers out there. Research suggests napping can lead may be linked to improved cognition, memory, and mood. All good things! But, not all naps are created equal. A nap that goes on a little too long may actually do more harm than good.

Ahead, we’re unpacking all the pros and cons of napping. We’ll look at how long you should nap, what time of day you should (and shouldn’t) nap, and what it could mean if you’re feeling tired all the time.

Napping has a number of benefits, like helping you feel more focused and clear-headed. While the direct effects on brain health are not fully understood, there has been some promising research.

A 2023 study found an association between routine daytime napping and larger total brain volume, which implies slightly better brain health.

Another study that put people through a round of testing after an afternoon nap found that nappers performed slightly better than those who didn’t take a nap. The researchers noted benefits in the following areas:

  • Declarative memory: remembering facts, data, and events

  • Procedural memory: remembering how to do tasks and activities

  • Vigilance: being alert and attuned to surroundings

  • Processing speed: how quickly your brain internalizes and understands information

Perhaps the most significant finding is that it appears the positive effects of napping transcended age. Other studies have found that age matters when it comes to naps.

A 2015 review showed that naps can be especially helpful for anyone who didn’t get enough sleep the night prior, as even short periods of sleep can be beneficial in making up for a sleep debt.

These findings suggest that a quick afternoon power nap may reduce your overall level of fatigue during the day.

The participants also reported improved mood and task performance after short afternoon naps. Though it’s not entirely clear why that happens.

It’s worth noting here that consistent daytime drowsiness may mean your body needs more than just a nap. You could be dealing with an underlying health issue, like depression or a metabolic disorder.

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Constantly feeling extremely tired or like you’re always on the verge of dozing off can be indicative of some underlying health concerns. These may include:

  • Sleep apnea

  • High blood pressure

  • Heart disease

  • Diabetes

  • Neurological issues

Other common factors leading to an increased need for naps are age, cognitive health, and medication use. There are many medications that have sleepiness as a side effect.

If you’re feeling tired all day, even after a good night’s sleep, it could be worth speaking with a healthcare provider. They can help you identify any underlying causes and help you take steps to improve your sleep hygiene.

Napping and Age

While the relationship between daytime napping and aging is unknown, older adults tend to nap longer and more frequently. In some cases, this may be related to other issues that lead to poorer quality nighttime sleep and changing lifestyle and sleep duration needs (older adults need fewer hours of sleep at night, according to The National Sleep Foundation).

A 2022 study suggests a link between daytime napping and Alzheimer’s disease. Specifically, the number of longer naps doubled with the disease and only accelerated as the disease progressed.

Longer and more frequent daytime napping was predictive of worse cognition a year later.

Napping and Weight

Another common factor in daytime sleepiness and increased napping is weight. One review of studies suggests that both short- and long-sleeping (either under seven hours or over nine hours of sleep per night) may be more common in people who have obesity.

The data suggests that poor sleep hygiene might lead to more weight gain, primarily because of the effects of sleep on dietary intake (how much someone eats on average) and exercise.

Another study found that getting less sleep could lead to an increased appetite.

Potential Downsides to Napping

There are definitely some downsides to daytime napping, especially if you’re taking long naps. If you’ve ever woken up from a nap feeling super groggy, you’ve probably experienced what’s referred to as sleep inertia.

Sleep inertia typically happens when you don’t get enough sleep the night prior or if there’s been some kind of disturbance in your sleep schedule.

In a 2019 review of studies, sleep inertia was associated with lower cognitive performance, but that grogginess and accompanying lower performance slowly goes away the longer you’re awake.

You might also experience sleep inertia after napping because of greater cumulative sleep loss (or in other words, you’re working at a sleep deficit), and not just because of the nap alone. That, or you took too long of a daytime nap, and entered too deep of a sleep state (it only takes about 90 minutes of sleep before you enter the REM stage), which can throw off your circadian rhythm and make it harder to sleep that night.

Since the goal is to wake up feeling better and more alert, it’s helpful to know the formula for a good nap that produces those benefits.

On to the good stuff — how to take a healthy nap:

  • Short naps are ideal. Limit your naps to somewhere between fifteen and thirty minutes. This way, you’ll wake up feeling refreshed instead of groggy and out of it. This is because longer sleep results in deeper sleep, and is more difficult to rouse from.

  • Time of day matters. Early afternoon and mid-afternoon naps are best, which is great timing for a post-lunch snooze. If you schedule a nap for sometime between noon and three in the afternoon, it’s less likely to interfere with your nighttime sleep quality.

  • Take your nap in a place that promotes relaxation. Somewhere quiet and dark with few distractions and a comfortable temperature. (Note to self: the subway is not an ideal venue for a nap).

10 Sources

  1. Paz, Valentina, Hassan S Dashti, and Victoria Garfield. 2023. “Is There an Association between Daytime Napping, Cognitive Function, and Brain Volume? A Mendelian Randomization Study in the UK Biobank.” Sleep Health, June. Retreieved from: https://www.sleephealthjournal.org/article/S2352-7218(23)00089-X/fulltext.
  2. Vyazovskiy, Vladyslav. 2015. “Sleep, Recovery, and Metaregulation: Explaining the Benefits of Sleep.” Nature and Science of Sleep 7 (7): 171. Retrieved from: https://www.dovepress.com/sleep-recovery-and-metaregulation-explaining-the-benefits-of-sleep-peer-reviewed-fulltext-article-NSS.
  3. Almansouri, Y., Alsuwatt, A., Alzahrani, M., Alamrai, R., Alsuwat, W. S., Almansouri, B. H., & Al Bahis, A. F. (2023). Excessive Daytime Sleepiness in Patients With Hypertension: A Systematic Review. Cureus, 15(12). Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10792344/.
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  6. Li, P., Gao, L., Yu, L., Zheng, X., Ulsa, M. C., Yang, W., Gaba, A., Yaffe, K., Bennett, D. A., Buchman, A. S., Hu, K., & Leng, Y. (2023). Daytime napping and Alzheimer’s dementia: A potential bidirectional relationship. Alzheimer's & Dementia : The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association, 19(1), 158. Retrieved from: https://alz-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/alz.12636.
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  8. Hibi, Masanobu, Chie Kubota, Tomohito Mizuno, Sayaka Aritake, Yuki Mitsui, Mitsuhiro Katashima, and Sunao Uchida. 2017. “Effect of Shortened Sleep on Energy Expenditure, Core Body Temperature, and Appetite: A Human Randomised Crossover Trial.” Scientific Reports 7: 39640. Retreieved from: https://www.nature.com/articles/srep39640.
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