It’s 2 in the afternoon and you’ve just had your lunch. As you sit back on your work desk to finish what you had been up to, your mind slowly drifts off. The perpetual yawns make it impossible to keep your eyes open, your lashes suddenly feel heavy, and you try your best to not dose off right at that moment.
The urge to catch up on sleep briefly during the day, also known as napping, is familiar to all of us - and fighting this urge is part of our daily work routine.
A 2019 survey found that most Indians felt napping at work could improve productivity and that a nap room could contribute towards better workflow. It is not surprising, then, that when a politician in Goa recently promised to designate 2-4 PM as ‘nap time’ if elected, he gave us another reason to want to shift to the beachy wonderland.
But is this irresistible longing to sleep during the day a function of the rice you had for lunch, or does it actually have a scientific explanation? Is napping truly beneficial?
The answer lies in the importance of sleep.
Dr Vikas Maurya, Director and Head of Department, Pulmonology, Fortis Hospital Shalimar Bagh, says sleep is crucial for both our minds and bodies. “Sleep time varies with age. Normally, after 18 years of age, you are recommended to sleep for around 7 or more hours. Not getting sufficient sleep could cause fatigue, irritability, mood changes, forgetfulness, and even a reduced sex drive.”
“The most immediate effect is tiredness and lack of concentration - these are evident after a short period of continuous sleeplessness (48-72 hours). Prolonged lack of sleep can cause more serious health problems including poor immunity, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart attack or failure, poor libido and depression. It can also cause microsleep, a type that lasts a few seconds, and can cause accidents when one is driving, or working with machineries.”Dr Akshay Budhraja, Consultant Department of Pulmonology, Aakash Healthcare Super Specialty Hospital
How Does a Nap Help?
In conversation with FIT, Dr Akshay Budhraja, Consultant Department of Pulmonology, Aakash Healthcare Super Specialty Hospital, New Delhi, explains that naps are beneficial for people who are experiencing a recent onset of sleeplessness, or have started to experience a reduction in their sleeping time due to other engagements (such as long working hours). “Anyone who feels tired can experiment with a limited-time nap to see if they feel refreshed and perform better after it,” he says.
“Studies have found naps or limited-duration sleep of up to 30 minutes could increase alertness and performance of individuals. It is a part of culture in the coastal areas globally.”Dr Akshay Budhraja
For instance, research by the University of Athens Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health found that naps may reduce the risk of dying from heart disease by 34% despite other risk factors, while occasional napping reduced cardiac mortality by 12%.
Dr Vikas Maurya further quoted studies to describe the many benefits of napping for an optimum duration - for individuals who genuinely need it.
“A good nap can offer relaxation, increase alertness, reduce fatigue, improve mood and performance, and help with a quicker reaction time and better memory.”Dr Vikas Maurya
Naps could also lower hypertension, according to this research. The findings showed that taking a nap during the day was associated with an average 5 mm Hg drop in blood pressure.
The Dos and Donts of Napping
While napping is beneficial in certain circumstances, it could also have its drawbacks when stretched or extended beyond the optimum time. “Too much of sleep is also problematic,” says Dr Maurya.
Both doctors highlight some important tips to do it right:
- Limit the duration of your nap. Do not let it exceed beyond 30 minutes. “The ideal duration is 20-30 minutes. Anything beyond that can hamper our work as well as night-time sleep. It is best to set an alarm of 30 minutes initially and start reducing the time till one can wake up in 15-20 minutes and yet feel refreshed,” says Dr Budhraja.
- Fix a time for your daily nap and try and do it before 3 PM or in the early afternoon so that it doesn’t interfere with your night sleep.
- If you are napping after 4 PM, limit it to 10 minutes.
- While napping at home, wear loose-fitting clothes.
- Dr Maurya also suggests ensuring you are napping in a comfortable environment, in a quiet, dark place and in the optimum room temperature.
“A nighttime sleep of 7 to 8 hours is sufficient for an average adult. Excessive sleeping may not be harmful in itself, other than eating into time that may have been used for something else, but may indicate serious undetected health issues, such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy. One must consult a doctor in such an event,” notes Dr Budhraja.