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17 benefits of napping: Why a short daytime sleep is good for you

Napping benefits. Man naps on sofa with a book over his face

Forty winks can boost your health, wealth and happiness, but can you nap too much? We investigate the pros and cons of napping

Snoozing on the job may not sound great for business, but according to research – including our own Expert Reviews Sleep Survey – a quick nap can work wonders on energy levels. Is it any wonder then that Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein and JRR Tolkein were big fans of a power nap.

The benefits of napping are not lost on today’s captains of industry, either. A huge 48% of the CEOs who responded to our Sleep Survey said they nap “often”, compared with 11% of the wider population. Clearly, napping isn’t a sign of laziness or weakness – and could instead be a secret productivity weapon.

The positives of a nap are similar to those of night-time sleep, but it isn’t as simple as “more sleep is better”. A 20-minute nap can deliver a much greater energy boost than a two-hour sleep. The key to gaining most from your naps is having them at the right time.

In this article, we reveal how napping can improve your life, from boosting your memory to shrinking your waistline. You’ll also discover the best time to nap, and when to set your alarm.

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Are naps good for you?

Any napper knows that a short afternoon doze delivers an immediate boost to energy levels and alertness. This is backed by science, with many studies showing that naps are good for your brain; they can improve your memory and even help stave off dementia.

Of course, work does tend to limit our ability to nap. Studies have found that more than a quarter of people over retirement age enjoy a daily nap, compared with around one in 10 working people in our Sleep Survey.

But napping isn’t just for babies and the elderly. The fact that nearly half of CEOs in our survey are nappers is a strong indicator of the benefits of a quick snooze. Let’s now look at these advantages in more detail.

Napping benefits. Businessman takes a nap on the sofa with a laptop on his lap

What are the benefits of napping?

1. Naps improve your performance at work

A short sleep early in the afternoon improves cognitive performance for hours afterwards, according to many different researchers. When a UK study found that a half-hour afternoon nap boosts attention, wellbeing and productivity, scientists called for naps to be built into the working day, stating this would benefit businesses as well as workers. Organisations including the NHS now provide places for their staff to nap when needed.

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2. Naps boost your memory

Like night-time sleep, naps are important for embedding short-term and long-term memories. There are some really interesting studies into naps and short-term memory recall. For example, people who had napped in the daytime performed better when asked to recall Chinese characters they had been taught hours earlier. A nap may also stop you from forgetting something new, such as a person’s name.

3. Naps help children learn

The benefits of napping for embedding memories are especially powerful in children. Children who take an afternoon nap are found to perform significantly better in learning exercises, with long-term studies finding that a napping habit makes children happier, more self-disciplined and more likely to do well at school.

Interestingly, children can’t make up for a missed nap by sleeping more at night. It’s the fact that they’ve had a short nap during the day that delivers the benefits.

Napping benefits. Man napping on a sofa with a small child sleeping on his chest

4. Naps make you more creative

Ever woken up from a short nap to suddenly have figured out the solution to a problem you had been chewing on for a few days, or finally hit upon a brilliant idea? You may have the snooze to thank.

Your creative post-nap burst may be even more productive if you manage to squeeze in a dream, according to one intriguing study. People who were asked to dream about trees during a 45-minute nap performed much better in tree-related creative tasks than non-napping and non-dreaming people.

That said, it’s also widely accepted that napping for more than around half an hour seriously limits its benefits, so we think the jury is out on naps that last long enough to let you dream.

5. Naps can help you sleep at night

This may seem counter-intuitive, but a short daily naps can help treat insomnia. Regular daytime napping helps to stabilise your sleep patterns and biological rhythms, and soothe the stress that can cause poor sleep at night.

While the NHS still advises that insomniacs avoid daytime napping, there is a trend among some doctors to use napping as a strategy for sleeping better.

6. Naps can make up for bad nights

If you’ve had a late night or a poor night’s sleep, you’ll find yourself craving a nap the following day, especially around lunchtime. Dozing off for even five to 15 minutes will deliver an energy boost for the next few hours. In the longer term, brief naps may limit the negative effects of sleep deprivation.

7. Naps keep your brain young

Adults who take daytime naps have bigger brains, according to a widely reported study by UK scientists in 2023. Brain volume, which increases in those with a napping habit, is linked to good brain health – which indicates a lower risk of dementia and other age-related diseases.

8. Naps improve your physical performance

Sleep is vital for letting your body rest and recuperate, with naps playing an important role alongside night-time sleep. Athletes who take a daily nap score better in tests for endurance and reaction times, and their recovery process is much improved.

Naps also help counteract the ill effects of sleep deprivation, which is common among enthusiastic exercisers.

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9. Naps heal you when you’re ill

You may notice that you want to sleep more when you’re not feeling well. This is a wise move for your body, because sleep is your system’s chance to fight infection and illness. Nap for as long as you like when you’re ill, because this isn’t about grabbing a creative boost – it’s about recovery, especially if your aching muscle and stuffy nose are stopping you from sleeping deeply at night.

Naps may help you avoid illness in the longer term, too. Short daytime sleeps can undo the ill effects of poor night-time sleep, which is associated with conditions such as diabetes and obesity.

10. Naps help you lose weight

If you’re sleepy during the day, head for bed instead of the fridge. It stands to reason that a half-hour nap is better for your waistline than a bag of snacks, and it will deliver the energy boost you need to curb the munchies.

There may be less straightforward weight-loss benefits of napping, too. One recent UK study found that swapping 30 minutes of sitting down for 30 minutes of napping each day could shift almost an inch off your waistline, thanks to a metabolic boost. It has to be worth a try.

11. Naps make you happier

Napping, or even just resting for an hour without falling asleep, can brighten your mood and boost your confidence. This benefit fades when you nap for longer, however. Optimum nap time for good mood is around 20 to 30 minutes.

Naps may improve your mood over the long term, too. However, surveys that link napping with happiness may simply be discovering that people whose lifestyles enable them to nap are more likely to be happy.

Napping benefits. Woman sleeping on hammock with hat over her face

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12. Naps help you cope with stress

The restorative , energising power of a nap can deliver big benefits when you’re coping with a stressful situation. This is especially true for short-term stresses, such as memory tests and public speaking challenges, where a quick nap delivers a much bigger stress-relieving benefit than a waking break.

13. Naps protect your immune system

A bad night’s sleep or a stressful situation triggers your “fight or flight” chemical norepinephrine, with damaging knock-on effects for your immune system and heart health. But one or two 30-minute naps the following day reverse this impact.

14. Naps are good for your heart

People who nap once or twice a week are nearly half as likely to have cardiovascular problems (such as heart attack and stroke) than non-nappers, according to multiple studies. However, it may simply be that people with more relaxing lifestyles are both more likely to nap, and also less likely to have heart problems.

15. Naps boost your pain tolerance

You feel pain more if you don’t get enough sleep at night. This is especially bad news for those who are kept awake as a result of pain, because it turns into a vicious circle. Happily, if you get one or two 30-minute naps the day after your night of poor sleep, it can help to restore your normal pain tolerance levels.

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16. Naps help you digest lunch

Lunch is a tiring experience. Your body wants to focus its resources on digestion, and this can leave you feeling cold and sleepy. A nap lets your body focus its energy where it wants, and helps avoid digestive problems such as IBS, bloating and constipation.

17. An afternoon nap helps you enjoy your evening

A disco nap in the afternoon is an essential part of a good night out. A pre-emptive nap will do a far better (and long-lasting) job of boosting your energy and lifting your mood than a shot of caffeine. Napping is also great preparation for a long journey.

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How long should I nap for?

A short nap can make you feel more alert and awake, but go for an hour or more and it could leave you feeling groggy. This is because with a longer nap your body drifts into the deeper stages of night-time sleep, and you find it more difficult to wake up.

NASA certainly thinks shorter is better when it comes to napping. The American space agency found that taking a 26-minute nap boosted alertness by 54%, and improved job performance by one third. Frequent one-hour naps, on the other hand, are linked to an 82% higher risk of heart disease.

Different lengths of nap benefit different people in different ways, however. For most of us, the sweet spot is about 20 to 30 minutes. But if you’re recovering from illness or physical exertion, naps of up to 90 minutes may do a better job of letting your body recuperate.

When is the best time to nap?

Most of us have a natural dip in alertness between about 2pm and 3pm, especially after lunch. But your optimal nap time will depend on how rested you’re feeling:

  • If you had a bad night and you’re struggling to stay awake, a doze at around midday will boost your energy and alertness.
  • If you slept okay overnight, mid afternoon is your best time to nap.
  • Try not to nap any later than about 4pm, especially in winter when it’s dark, because this will interfere with your night sleep.

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What are the drawbacks of napping?

Napping is difficult at work

The rise of remote working means that more of us now have the opportunity to snatch some restorative sleep when needed; but napping is still impossible for those who work on the shop floor or a production line. Maybe more employers should follow the example of the NHS and its “Energy Pods”, providing a suitable space for staff naps.

Napping too much is linked to poor health

A daily habit of napping for more than an hour is linked with numerous health issues in adults, including high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes. However, it’s hard to tell if the napping is causing the condition, or the condition is causing the napping.

Nevertheless, the trend among health experts is towards being in favour of napping. As long as you don’t make a habit of dropping off for more than half an hour or so each day, naps will make you happier, healthier and more productive.

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