Are Naps Good for You? 4 Major Health Benefits of Napping from a Neurologist

Are naps healthy? According to a sleep specialist, it depends on a few factors. Experts weigh in on how to know if you need to take a nap, and what benefits you can expect from your siesta.

A 2023 study published in Health Psychology Research found that more than 60% of young adults have moderate to severe sleep deprivation and daytime sleepiness. This research doubles previous estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that one in three adults don’t get enough enough sleep, with seven hours per night being the recommendation. Considering this trend, there are plenty of Americans wondering whether napping is the healthy fix their sleep schedule needs, or just a temporary band-aid that further contributes to nighttime restlessness.

Not getting enough sleep doesn’t just make you feel crummy—it’s strongly associated with increasing your risk of all-cause mortality, explains Matthew Ebben, PhD, a neurologist specializing in sleep medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian and associate professor in the Department of Neurology at Weill Cornell Medicine.

Given many people have jam-packed days with inflexible schedules, recent research suggests that “catch-up sleep,” such as naps, can help reduce these health risks associated with sleep deprivation. But there’s a catch: Too much sleep is also associated with a greater risk of all-cause mortality.

So, is napping healthy? Says Dr. Ebben: “It really depends on the person, their individual sleep needs and if they’re meeting those needs at night.”

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What is your sleep need?

The official CDC recommendation is that all adults over 18 need seven hours of sleep per night. But you may require more—or even less, Dr. Ebben says. “Some people out there only need six hours of sleep and feel fully rested and ready to go,” he says. “There are other people that need nine hours.”

This sleep need is highly individualized, too, Dr. Ebben explains. Research published in a 2021 issue of Nature Communications shows that the amount of sleep your body needs—and your tendency to take naps—is largely influenced by genetics.

“We know certain genes can be associated with circadian phase [as well], whether you’re a morning person or a night person,” Dr. Ebben says. In a study published in JAMA Network Open, nearly half of adults reported “social jetlag”—a mismatch between when your body wants to sleep and what your work and life demand.

It’s important to look at your sleep habits to understand your body’s sleep needs, Dr. Ebben explains. “Let’s say that on work days, you go to sleep at 11 p.m. and wake up for work at 5 a.m. But then on the weekends, you go to sleep at 11 PM and but wake up at eight or nine—that’s a fairly good indication that you have chronic partial sleep deprivation.”

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Are naps good for you?

It’s helpful to think of naps as a supplement, explains Dr. Ebben. If you’re not satisfying your sleep needs at night, taking a nap can be a great way to offset the risks associated with sleep deprivation and improve your health.

Naps improve cognitive performance

“There’s a lot of evidence that daytime naps can improve cognitive performance—executive function, memory and alertness,” Dr. Ebben says. A review of research published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that napping improves task performance, logical reasoning, reaction time, productivity and creativity.

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Naps improve mood

Napping reduces your fatigue levels, too—and this has strong mood-boosting effects, according to a 2023 study published in the journal Sleep. The authors say there is no clear “best” duration, but a 30-minute nap seems to be the sweet spot. (A neuroscientist offered a separate perspective when it comes to brain health—read Here’s How Long the Best Nap Lasts, a Neuroscientist Says.)

Naps could promote brain health

A 2023 study found that habitual napping is associated with a greater total brain volume, linked to a lower risk of diseases like dementia. The study authors say this difference equates to faster aging in the non-nappers’ brains, but experts also say more research is needed.

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May lower the risk of heart disease

Past research has found that a lack of sleep is associated with a greater risk of heart disease. Meanwhile, a 2019 study published in BMJ Journals clarified how naps can improve heart health, concluding that napping once or twice a week led to a lower risk of heart attacks or stroke, but that there weren’t heart benefits to napping more often.

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Who shouldn’t take naps

While supplementing a lack of nighttime sleep can be good for your heart, too much sleep also increases your risk for heart disease, according to 2022 research published in the American Heart Association journal, Hypertension. The study found that frequent daytime napping is associated with a 12% higher risk of developing high blood pressure and a 24% greater risk of stroke.

Napping during the day can affect your sleep quality at night, too, Dr. Ebben says—so if your body doesn’t need extra sleep, you could do more harm than good. Plus, if you generally sleep well at night, taking a nap isn’t necessarily going to sharpen your memory [or lead to other benefits], he explains.

So if you’re meeting your sleep needs at night, it’s generally advised to avoid extra napping, Dr. Ebben says. Still, if you’re sleeping plenty and still suffer from low energy all day, it’s a good idea to see your doctor. Sleepiness that just won’t let up is a symptom of many diseases, including sleep disorders.

People with insomnia shouldn’t take naps, either, Dr. Ebben says. “If you spend too much time in bed, it will generally exacerbate or even cause insomnia,” he explains. Treating insomnia requires re-training someone to sleep, often with cognitive behavioral therapy.

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Sources

People:

Matthew Ebben, PhD, a sleep specialist at NewYork-Presbyterian and associate professor in the Department of Neurology at Weill Cornell Medicine

Websites:

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): "1 in 3 adults don't get enough sleep"

Journals:

Health Psychology Research: "The extent of sleep deprivation and daytime sleepiness in young adults"

Sleep: "Association between weekend catch-up sleep and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein levels in adults: a population-based study"

Nature Communications: "Genetic determinants of daytime napping and effects on cardiometabolic health"

JAMA Network Open: "Evaluation of Sleep Habits and Disturbances Among US Adults, 2017-2020"

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: "Effects of a Short Daytime Nap on the Cognitive Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"

Sleep: "Influence of mid-afternoon nap duration and sleep parameters on memory encoding, mood, processing speed, and vigilance"

Sleep Health: "Is there an association between daytime napping, cognitive function, and brain volume? A Mendelian randomization study in the UK Biobank"

BMJ Journals: "Association of napping with incident cardiovascular events in a prospective cohort study"

Hypertension: "Association of Nap Frequency With Hypertension or Ischemic Stroke Supported by Prospective Cohort Data and Mendelian Randomization in Predominantly Middle-Aged European Subjects"

Leslie Finlay, MPA
In addition to The Healthy, Leslie has written for outlets such as WebMd.com, Fodors.com, LiveFit.com, and more, specializing in content related to healthcare, nutrition, mental health and wellness, and environmental conservation and sustainability. She holds a master's degree in Public Policy focused on the intersection between public health and environmental conservation, and an undergraduate degree in journalism. Leslie is based in Thailand, where she is a marine conservation and scuba diving instructor. In her spare time you'll find her up in the air on the flying trapeze or underwater, diving coral reefs.