Sleep is the foundation of every process in your body. If you’re not getting enough sleep, everything from blood pressure to inflammation to mental health will all be negatively affected.
If you couple that with the fear-mongering narratives on social media that say missing a few hours of sleep will destroy your health, it can feel like one bad night can derail your entire week.
This article won’t give you all the answers, but by the end of it, you will know whether or not you should take naps if you slept poorly and exactly what those naps should look like.
Let’s jump in.
First, we need to define a good night’s sleep.
On average, we need 8 hours of sleep every night.
We need 8 hours because that’s the amount of time it takes to go through all the sleep cycles enough times to reap all the benefits of sleep.
Sleep is when our bodies do most of their housekeeping. It’s when we release most of our growth hormone, which is essential for recovery. It’s also the time when the byproducts of the day are flushed out of our brains and central nervous system.
These processes all take time, and you can’t speed them up.
Can you run on less sleep?
Absolutely, but eventually, it will catch up to you. So the general recommendation is to sleep for 7-9 hours nightly.
Now that we’ve established how much sleep we need let’s talk about naps.
Napping isn’t for everybody, even if the data suggests they’re beneficial.
Because some people don’t like naps, they feel groggy and slow after falling asleep, or it disrupts their sleep at night, so they avoid them.
If that’s you, hold tight; we’ll address that at the end.
If you do like naps, they’re a simple and powerful way to improve your mental clarity, energy, and overall performance.
Here’s your checklist for an effective nap.
Less than 90 minutes
The earlier, the better
No negative impact on your sleep at night
Less than 90 minutes
The longer your naps are, the more likely you’ll have issues falling asleep at night. The reason for this is because of something called “sleep pressure.”
Sleep pressure is when adenosine, a byproduct of your body burning energy, builds up in your system. It’s one of the strongest cues that your body needs rest. The more adenosine you build up, the easier it is to fall asleep.
Taking long naps processes too much adenosine, which leads to not feeling tired when it’s time to go to bed.
The earlier, the better
Naps late in the day negatively impact sleep for the same reason as long naps, by relieving sleep pressure.
If you nap too late in the day, there isn’t enough time to rebuild your sleep pressure for a good night’s sleep.
No negative impact on sleep
Naps are different for everybody. Some people can take a 90-minute name at 5:00 pm and sleep through the night without an issue. Others can fall asleep for 10 minutes at 11:00 am and lose half a night of sleep.
If you fall into the latter category, naps aren’t worth it. Taking a nap at the expense of a good night’s sleep is like stepping over a dollar to pick up a penny.
What other options are there?
If you need the benefits of a nap, but you’re unable to fall asleep, don’t like naps, or naps wreck your sleep at night, there are other options.
NSDR and yoga nidra
NSDR stands for Non-Sleep Deep Rest, a term coined by Dr. Andrew Huberman. NSDR and yoga nidra are very similar in that they are rest protocols that provide many of the same benefits as naps without falling asleep.
They’ve been shown to improve cognitive functioning, reduce stress, and restore dopamine levels. In other words, they provide a wonderful opportunity to reset during the day without risking your sleep or turning to alternatives like caffeine.
Here is a free 10-minute NSDR protocol you can try for yourself
Naps and NSDR are powerful tools to improve our cognition and performance throughout the day, however, they aren’t replacements for a full night’s rest. In other words, your focus should primarily be on setting yourself up for success to sleep well at night.
Budget 7-9 hours for sleep every night
Keep your room cool, dark, quiet, and free from electronics
Stop drinking liquids at least 1 hour before bedtime
Stop eating at least 90 minutes before bedtime
Get off screens at least 1 hour before bedtime or by 10:00 pm, whichever comes first
These things aren’t always easy, but they are simple. If you do everything you can to make them a part of your daily routine, your sleep will improve, and if then if you still need some help, you have naps and NSDR to fill in the cracks.