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The Art of Napping

Naps, a Well-Established Healthy Habit

a woman sleeping in her bed

While napping is part of the lifestyle of many people living in hot countries, it is not widely practised in more northern countries (e.g.: Canada, France, United States). Whether due to a lack of time or a bad view of it, this short moment of rest is largely neglected as an adult.

In recent years, studies have shown the benefits of napping, including a study conducted by the Institut national de prévention et d’éducation pour la santé (INPES) (2008) that demonstrated that:

  • 17% of French citizens aged 25 to 45 accrue sleep debt each night
  • In Canada, nearly 40% of the population have sleep disorders according to researchers at Université Laval, 12% of whom suffer from insomnia

The negative effects of sleep debt include stress, lack of concentration, mood swings, obesity, etc.

Worried about the quality of your sleep? Problems with attention, drowsiness or snoring? Learn more about sleep disorders.

Benefits of Napping

  • Researchers at Stanford University in the United States have found that emergency room clinicians who nap for about 25 minutes had fewer performance gaps and felt more vigorous, less tired and less asleep than their non-napping counterparts.
  • Napping stimulates your ability to learn and improves your memory.
  • It helps reduce your blood pressure.
  • As we age, the number of hours of sleep tends to decrease to an average of 6.5 hours per night. Statistics show that, by taking into account the hours of sleep during the day and night, the total rest time for seniors is at the recommended levels. Longer naps would therefore be beneficial.

Suggestions for a Good Nap

Take a short nap:

Naps of 10 to 20 minutes are more effective than 5- or 30-minute naps. They improve cognitive abilities, restore strength, counter fatigue and increase alertness. Unlike longer naps, naps of 10 to 20 minutes do not cause post-waking drowsiness. Longer-term effects have also been found, including a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.

In the afternoon:

Many researchers support the theory that napping is the result of an innate biological rhythm in mammals, including humans. Between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m., heavy drowsiness is generally felt, accompanied by a significant reduction in alertness. This sudden fatigue occurs in both sleep-deprived and well-rested individuals. So an afternoon nap, between 12 and 3 p.m., can be beneficial and give you an energy boost to finish the day.

The Nap in Minutes

Alarm clock for naptime
10-20 minutes

This nap is ideal for improving vigilance, concentration and energy. This timeframe generally keeps you in the light sleep stages, making waking easier. The state of alertness returns quickly.

30 minutes

This napping time can be problematic because it can cause “sleep inertia” after waking up (unpleasant feeling of moving more slowly and being drowsier than before the nap).

60 minutes

This napping time improves memory (e.g. facts, faces and names). It includes a slow-wave and deep-wave sleep stage. However, you will be drowsy after waking.

90 minutes

This is a complete sleep cycle. A nap of this length increases alertness, concentration and memory and decreases sleep deficiency. It generally avoids sleep inertia, making it easier to wake up. The state of alertness returns quickly.

Other important advice

  • If you feel very sleepy during the day, limit your nap to less than an hour before 3 p.m.
  • If you are suffering from insomnia, avoid napping, or limit it to 15-20 minutes before 3:00 p.m. to help build up your need for sleep.
  • If you are an early riser (between 3:00 and 5:00 a.m.), take a 90- or 180-minute nap (1 or 2 complete sleep cycles) after your lunch (this is a good time to nap). Or you can take one to three 20-minute naps during the day.
  • For night-shift workers, you can take a nap of about 1.5 hours before your shift, or for about 45 minutes during the first half of your shift. Have a coffee just before your nap.
  • If you are driving and become drowsy (e.g. straying over the white line on the road, repeated yawning, neck stiffness, drooping of the head, itchy eyes, heavy eyelids, moving around on your seat, last few kilometres forgotten, missed exit, stray thoughts that are out of context, waking dreaming) STOP!
    • Park in a safe place and take a 20-minute nap – it can save lives.
    • If possible, drink a coffee, cola or energy drink before taking a 20-minute nap (the combination of the two will stimulate you). The boosting effect of the drink may take 30 minutes to manifest and will not interfere with your 20-minute nap.
    • Attention! You cannot rely solely on the stimulating drink to stay awake.
    • If you can, take a short walk after the nap to wake up.

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