Of Christine Brown

In certain cases, afternoon naps are restorative, provided you don’t overdo it with frequency and duration. The expert: «However, they cannot compensate for the loss of health benefits caused by poor night’s sleep»

If I sleep less than the recommended 7-8 hours each night, can an afternoon nap compensate for the night’s sleep loss?

Turning over in bed

prey to anxious thoughts or watching a TV series devoured by insomnia can certainly have repercussions on the management of the following day. For this one quick nap at lunchtime it will be able to give the right boost to recover at least in part the benefits of a lost night’s sleep.

Can afternoon rest compensate for the loss of health benefits due to disturbed nighttime sleep?
«Sleeping badly can happen from time to time, but afternoon naps will never replace a good night’s sleep in terms of health benefits. – points out Carlotta Mutti, neurologist of the Sleep Medicine Center of the Parma hospital -. It is in fact now known that lack of sleep is associated with greater obesity, hypertension, diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke. It is not only the duration of sleep that is important, but also the quality of sleep which is determined by how much time is spent in the different stages.

What is the difference between night and day rest?

When we sleep at night we go through several sleep cycles of approximately 90 minutes divided into four phases. The first two are considered light sleepers: muscles begin to relax, body temperature begins to drop, heart rate and breathing slow down as you fall asleep. The third phase is that of Deep sleep or slow wave sleep: the brain goes into “stand by” in a condition of hypometabolism. It is in this phase that consolidates memorythe immune system is strengthened, a “scavenger” system is activated which eliminates toxic substances, including betamiloide circulating, protecting against cognitive decline. REM sleep is the last stage of each night’s rest cycle, when sleep lightens and dreams are vivid. REM sleep plays an important role in a person’s emotional balance. “Even if you add a few hours of sleep a night with an afternoon nap to six or more total hours of rest, the health benefits don’t add up as much because you still lack deep sleep and REM sleep. which are generally experienced at night or with naps longer than 90 minutes» specifies the neurologist.

Who has to take a nap?

When you have slept badly at night, an afternoon nap, what the Americans call power nap, i.e. the short power nap, can really be useful for improving reaction times, lucidity, memory if you have to work or study. Naps are especially helpful for those who don’t always work day shifts such as airline pilots, drivers, doctors and nurses, or anyone who works shifts. «Even the elderly people who often suffer from disturbed sleep can find benefit from an afternoon rest – underlines Mutti – as well as students who have to get up very early to reach high schools, technical institutes or universities. Scientific literature tells us that on average 43 to 54% of university students need a nap at least once a week».

How long should the nap be?

The ideal power nap to stock up on energy has one ideal duration of 10-20 minutes: it will make us feel completely regenerated upon awakening. In this phase of time you are in the light sleep phase and there is no risk of waking up groggy. Already after 30 minutes most people enter deep sleep therefore an awakening in this phase will not give a real feeling of rest.

And what if I sleep longer?

With an hour’s rest, you enter the phase of deep sleep. With a nap of an hour and a half the duration of the sleep cycle is complete, including the REM phase, so you will be able to dream and when you wake up you will feel more rested. «However, it is not recommended to take such long naps because they can interfere with night rest – recommends Carlotta Mutti -. The drive to sleep is in fact guided by the so-called “homeostatic process”, the intensity of which depends on how many hours you have been awake consecutively. In other words, the more hours we stay awake the greater our drive to sleep will be. If we insert a long-lasting nap between one night and the next, we will not be able to have a push of the homeostatic process intense enough to guarantee us a rapid fall asleep and therefore we risk compromising the efficiency of our sleep”.

When to take a regenerative nap?

Generally our biorhythm reaches its maximum efficiency around 11 and a decrease in tiredness begins around 13, at lunchtime; in the afternoon the energy level increases again. The ideal would therefore be to indulge in a restorative nap immediately after lunch. “In general, the ideal is to avoid taking a nap close to the time you go to sleep, in order not to risk lengthening the latency to falling asleep and therefore developing insomnia,” says the neurologist.

How to manage not to sleep to the bitter end?

When trying to take a nap for the first few times, to avoid slipping into deep sleep it is useful to set a soft ringtone so as not to wake up abruptly. Of course it’s good not to roll over and continue to sleep.

Are there health conditions in which a nap is particularly useful?

«Yes, in some clinical scenarios, taking a nap (or even more than one) during the day – explains the neurologist – can really be part of the therapeutic approach. In the conditions of hypersomnolence and, in particular, in narcolepsy, people have an increased need for sleep and, in parallel, are unable to consolidate a state of prolonged wakefulness”. In these cases it will be necessary to guarantee them restorative naps, to be distributed throughout the day in moments of greatest fragility. «Usually in these cases naps lasting a few minutes are enough to obtain an improvement in the patient’s sleepiness and feeling of well-being. This also avoids the occurrence of sudden and potentially dangerous falls asleep» adds the doctor.

What are the risks of napping during the day?

If we exaggerate the duration or number of naps during the day we risk developing a impairment of our circadian rhythm or at least to develop insomnia. «In extreme cases – concludes Carlotta Mutti – it is possible to invert day and night, or to sleep and stay awake at times that are totally subverted from the norm. The risk is particularly high in the elderly and in patients with cognitive disorders, who instead need to maintain a correct regularity of the day/night alternation and should not allow themselves long naps during the day. When the excess of naps leads to one circadian rhythm imbalance the health consequences become more severe, with possible metabolic or even repercussions adverse effects on the cardiovascular system».. A study led by a Chinese team and published in the journal Hypertension of the American Heart Association last July had concluded that who does regular naps has a greater risk to meet stroke from high blood pressure. However, the same researchers have underlined that it is not directly afternoon naps that fuel these risks, but poor sleep during the night fueled by the abuse of daytime rest.

April 15, 2023 (change April 15, 2023 | 09:21)

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