I thought I’d use this column to come clean about one of my most controversial opinions – I’m an anti-napper.
While I used to enjoy the occasional siesta as a student, I’ve since concluded midday napping has a negative effect on healthy sleep habits and should be avoided.
Scientific research on the impact of napping is fairly mixed. Some studies suggest it is healthy to have a short “cat nap” in the afternoon to fill any sleep debt you may be suffering from. Other studies, like a January 2020 report in Neurology – a peer-reviewed neurology journal – indicate people who take long midday naps “were independently and jointly associated with higher risks of incident stroke.”
My own position against napping stems not so much from science, but from my own negative experiences. I’ve always found it difficult to fall asleep at night. Considering this, you might expect me to be the type of person who needs a brief afternoon snooze to recharge my batteries. On the contrary, I’ve found that a midday nap negatively affects my circadian rhythm and hinders my ability to fall asleep. Napping puts me in a vicious cycle where I’m unable able to get a good night’s sleep and need to make up for it by snoozing during the day.
I concede there are benefits to a short, 15- to 30-minute nap, as indicated in many research studies. However, I do not see how someone can nap for precisely that amount of time. How do you set your alarm clock with enough accuracy to know you will fall asleep within that 15-minute window? If I were to lie down at 2 p.m. on a Sunday and set my alarm clock for 2:30 p.m., I know I would simply spend the whole half-hour thinking about when the alarm will ring. If I didn’t set an alarm, I know I would end up napping for two or three hours, and my sleep cycle would be ruined.
I have nothing against other people napping, but I've found a few alternatives help me feel more alert during the day. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day – even on the weekend – eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, avoiding caffeine after 2 p.m. and drinking plenty of water usually help me fall asleep at bedtime. If you still struggle to fall asleep at night despite these efforts, try turning off your devices earlier and having a hot shower or bath in the evening. While in bed, instead of browsing the net or scrolling your social media feeds on your phone, try reading a book or magazine.