By Alan Koenigsberg, M.D.
Babies sleep most of the day. Toddlers are often difficult to put down for a nap. Adolescents stay up late. And then we reach the age when we actually look forward to, and enjoy, lying down on the couch and taking a snooze…. Is that OK? Something to worry about or to relish?
I’ve recently read several articles on napping; various opinions are emerging. There’s really not a controversy per se but rather, ongoing understandings. I’d suggest it’s a work in progress.
Here is some of the current thinking on napping in adults, with thanks to the Mayo Clinic and the CDC:
I’ll start with the standard variety of disclaimers…be careful that you are not experiencing excessive sleepiness due to an illness such as obstructive sleep apnea, medications such as sedating antihistamines, poor sleep hygiene such as a 20-year-old bed or such conditions as diabetes, a depressive disorder and so on.
If any of the above may be an issue, please discuss it with your physician. Many of these conditions can be effectively treated and the earlier they are detected, the better the results.
The general guideline is that if napping in the afternoon helps you stay refreshed and doesn’t interfere with sleeping at night, have at it. If, however, napping seems to make it difficult to sleep, it may not be a good idea.
Benefits of napping include relaxation, reduced fatigue, relieving back strain, increased alertness and improved mood, performance and memory.
Other recommendations include taking short naps, less than 30 minutes; nap in the early afternoon; create a restful environment. Many of us experience a dip in the early afternoon, which may be due to a large lunch or just circadian rhythm slump. Napping later in the afternoon may interfere with going to sleep.
Obviously, for many people who are working in an office setting or working outdoors, taking a nap may simply not be an option. However, even a few minutes with closed eyes in a car or in an office chair may provide some relaxation and some benefit.
We tend to think that only full-on sleep can provide rest and rejuvenation, but just sitting or lying back with our eyes closed can provide a decent amount of the above benefits.
For those who are fortunate to have a bed or couch available, kicking off the shoes and simply lying down can be an enormous source of relaxation and refreshment. It also eases strain on the back from being upright all day.
Some stretching prior to lying down may even help more.
Lastly, there is some very recent research that seems to indicate that older people who habitually nap have larger brain volumes than those who don’t. The difference is not huge but is statistically significant. It’s early information and the researchers are not sure if there is a correlation or causation, but it’s interesting information nonetheless.
So I would suggest for now, if you enjoy naps and they don’t interfere with your sleep and you feel well and rested when you get up, enjoy your nap.
If you have any concerns, please discuss these with your physician.
Now go kick your shoes off and relax!
Alan Koenigsberg, M.D., is a practicing psychiatrist and clinical professor of psychiatry at UTSW Medical School in Dallas. He can be reached at email@example.com.