Age Wise

Are Naps Good or Bad?

Napping is loved and hated and can be restorative or a sign of health problems, so here’s what you need to know

Robert Roy Britt
Published in
5 min readMar 23, 2022

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Photo: Unsplash/Sharon McCutcheon

There are two kinds of people in this world: happy nappers who, like me, wake up revived from a short afternoon snooze, ready to tackle the remainder of the day with fresh and annoying vigor; and napping naysayers like my wife who can’t stand naps and think people like me are just lazy asses or sleep freaks.

So who has it right?

The ambiguous science on naps could fuel a lifetime of marital spats. Whether naps are good or bad for the body and mind depends on a bunch of things, including age, genes, physical health and mental well-being, nighttime sleep patterns, how long naps last, and, well… before you nod off, let’s take a serious look at the science of napping and its many nuances.

A good thing… for some people

There is evidence that afternoon naps can improve cognitive ability, boost recall after cramming for a test, tamp down impulsivity and frustration, and more generally enhance overall mental performance. But you have to add up a lot of small, mostly inconclusive studies to arrive at these tentative conclusions.

And even then, napping is not for everyone.

Napping varies notably by country and culture, with the siesta common in many countries while in the Western world, particularly the United States, afternoon somnolence is chided as lackadaisically unproductive. However, about one-third of U.S. adults nap, a figure that’s consistent until around age 80, when it jumps to half or more.

Across age groups, men nap more than women, as many women are well aware.

“I consider napping to be a good thing, but it needs to be taken in the context of the person and his or her own sleep cycles and body,” says Charlene Gamaldo, MD, medical director of Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center.

A chief complaint of non-nappers is the dreaded post-nap lethargy, a phenomenon scientists call “sleep inertia.” It’s not clear why some people suffer it and others do not, but there’s a popular theory that goes like this: When they nap…

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Robert Roy Britt
Elemental

Editor of Aha! and Wise & Well on Medium + the Writer's Guide at writersguide.substack.com. Author of Make Sleep Your Superpower: amazon.com/dp/B0BJBYFQCB