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How to nap so you get the most benefit

HOUSTON – Whether or not you're a fan of napping, there's research that backs up the benefits of daytime dozing. 

Studies suggest short naps could help to:
Boost your mood
Make you more alert
Less impulsive
More tolerant

But entering a deep sleep during the day may make you feel worse.

50-70 million U.S. adults have difficulty sleeping, and many say they're not getting the recommended seven hours a night. 

The biggest mistake, according to Kelsey-Seybold Pulmonary Critical Care and Sleep Medicine Dr. Puneet Patni, is when people assume they can function fine on fewer hours.

“A lot of people who get that much sleep feel like it's enough for them but when you test them, you can see night after night of getting only 5 or 6 hours of sleep, you can see declines in their performance on cognitive testing,” Patni said.

While nothing can replace a good night's rest, Patni said a mid-afternoon nap can be beneficial, but you should keep it under 30 minutes.

“If you let it go too long, a lot of times you enter deep sleep or slow wave sleep and then you can find yourself waking up feeling even worse than before your nap. You wake up with that fogginess and really sluggish and groggy, you feel like a truck hit you,” he said. 

The best time of day to nap?

Consider this, the after lunch struggle is real, according to the doctor.

We have two times per day that our circadian rhythm changes: at night and early afternoon. Patni said a power nap about 1 or 2 p.m. can help maintain peak performance.

“There's a natural little dip in the core body temperature around one or two o’clock,” he said. “The other big decline in body temperature is at night time, you know from ten o’clock onward the body temperature really drops.”

As your core temperature drops, you feel sleepier.

However, Patni said, don't assume you should be more tired with age. If you find yourself needing more and more sleep, tell your doctor. It can be a sign of other health problems.

While you cannot fully catch up on missed sleep, Patni said if you sleep a lot on weekends, it’s a sign your body needs more rest during the week.

For shift workers or people who work overnight and split sleep between naps, Patni said the total hours should still equal seven to nine hours and one rest time should contain the bulk of sleep while the other should be a shorter nap period.