5 Surprising Ways Naps Improve Your Health
Feeling sleepy after lunch? Your body knows what it needs. Napping doesn't just feel good in the moment -- it recharges your body and your brain in these surprising health-boosting ways:
Naps improve your heart health and longevity.
Naps can hardly be considered aerobic exercise, but they're just as good for your heart. In 2007, a study of 24,000 adults done by the Harvard School of Public Health found that nappers were 40 percent less likely to die of heart disease than non-nappers. Working men received the most benefit of all.
Daytime napping for 45 minutes has also been shown to lower blood pressure and improve the rate of cardiovascular recovery after mental stress, according to 2011 research at Allegheny College.
How to benefit: Nap every day.
The Harvard study was done in Greece, which has a long-standing "siesta culture." Regular (daily) nappers were found to be better protected than occasional nappers, who, in turn, had more protection against heart disease than non-nappers. People who make a habit of napping are also more likely to fall asleep quickly when taking a nap.
"A lot of people don't realize that you don't need a really long nap," says Karl Doghramji, director of the Jefferson Sleep Disorders Center at Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. "Just putting your head down where you are helps."
Naps help you avoid gaining weight.
True, you don't burn many calories during sleep. But sleep provides other weight-control benefits. In a 2010 Japanese study of 35,000 adults, reported in the journal Sleep, those who slept five to six hours a day were twice as likely to become overweight as those who slept seven to nine hours. An earlier study from Columbia University compared sleep patterns and obesity and found that those who got five to seven hours of sleep per night were 50 percent more likely to be obese than seven-to-nine-hour sleepers. Very light sleepers -- those who snatch just two to four hours a night -- are 73 percent more likely to be obese.
Lack of sleep decreases levels of the hormone leptin (which makes you feel full) and increases levels of the hormone ghrelin (which makes you feel hungry). As you hit the post-lunch energy slump -- which is actually a natural dip in your circadian rhythm, Doghramji says -- you may have less afternoon resistance to junk food, too.
A 2012 study in the Journal of Nursing Administration found higher obesity levels among nurses who work long hours. Among the remedies suggested: an organizational climate that supports napping in the workplace.
How to benefit: Nap at the right time.
It's best to start a nap during the noon-to-1 p.m. window, when most people's energy naturally flags. (Your body clock has natural dips in its 24-hour cycle.) Also, avoid taking your naps too late in the day. After around 3 p.m., daytime sleep will start to interfere with night sleep. (Shift workers, however, benefit from napping just before their shift begins.)
Naps enhance sexual health.
Insufficient sleep can lead to a cascade of effects that squelch libido. If you're not sleeping well, you're more apt to be tense, cross, and fatigued -- not conditions associated with putting one "in the mood." In the National Sleep Foundation's 2007 Sleep in America survey, about one-third of women said they were too tired for sex. In the 2010 edition of the survey, one-fourth of respondents of both genders said the same.
Napping is one way to restore mood and energy while reducing stress, which can in turn stir sexual desire -- and in a happy circular effect, in turn improve mood, energy, and stress levels.
In a 2011 University of Chicago study, 24-year-old men who slept fewer than five hours a day had the testosterone levels of men 15 years older; the researchers noted that lower testosterone, in turn, diminishes sexual desire and performance. (Testosterone naturally falls by one to two percent a year as a man ages.)
How to benefit: Nap on the go.
Sleep (like sex) isn't limited to the bed. "A dark, noise-free room is more satiating from a sleep standpoint, but you can sleep anywhere, even sitting up at your desk," Doghramji says. If you can't sack out on the nearest sofa, try curling up on a yoga mat on the floor, or nap in your car.