Nap: Benefits and dangers


SleepUp Blog: Cochilos, benefícios e perigos

Although sleep is primarily a nocturnal practice, we all occasionally nap during the day. In some places napping is often cultural, such as in Mediterranean countries (eg Italy, Greece and Spain), where napping or siesta is a common habit, or in eastern countries (such as China) where napping is common as result of the high workload.

Despite being something commonplace, there is a lot of discussion about the effects of naps on our health. And the truth is, there is no simple answer to that. In some cases, sleeping during the day can be very good, but in others it can be a big problem! In this blog we will discuss naps under three conditions:

1. When are they beneficial

2. When are essential

3. When should they be avoided


1. When can naps be beneficial?


Naps every day


One of the keys to quality sleep is regularity. It's really important that we sleep and always wake up at the same time, so that our brain is conditioning and learning to maintain a sleep routine. This routine is essential to avoid or fight the symptoms of insomnia. It is important that this regularity is maintained even on weekends, avoiding creating a big difference between Saturday and Sunday sleep and weekday sleep.


The same idea of ​​regularity applies to naps. It's okay to take a nap, as long as it's done every day, as a habit (or at least most days). In this case, it is difficult to think about the harm caused by napping, as it is part of the “equation” of our circadian cycle. That is, our brain can predict and take into account the sleep period during the day to plan daytime sleep.


This is exactly what happens during siesta, which in many countries is a very common habit. In that case, it is socially acceptable for people to take a short nap after lunch. In some locations, businesses even close so that people can rest.


Nap during childhood


In the first weeks of life, newborns spend more time sleeping than awake, and it is even difficult to distinguish between nighttime and daytime sleep. During this period, it is normal for a baby to sleep up to 19 hours a day. This sleep pattern in which the child sleeps and wakes up throughout the day is called polyphasic sleep (ie, a sleep divided over several phases). It contrasts with monophasic sleep, usually seen in adults, which occurs in only one phase throughout the day. This transition from monophasic to polyphasic sleep is slow and gradual, over a period of years until sleep settles into a single nocturnal period.


Between six and nine months of age, babies establish a pattern of three naps during a day, usually one in the morning and two in the afternoon. From nine to twelve months it is common to see a pattern of two naps during the day. After twelve months, a biphasic pattern begins to establish, with the main period of sleep during the night and a single nap during the day. This pattern usually remains for a few years, until sometime between the ages of three and seven the child begins to establish his monophasic sleep, avoiding daytime naps and concentrating everything at night.


Sleep during the first months and years of life is very important because it is related to the process of brain maturation. The brain is not 100% ready at the time of delivery and the process of brain development will continue for a few years after birth. As sleep is very important for neurodevelopment, these naps during the day are essential.


Nap in old age


When we reach old age, sleep changes a lot again. In general, the elderly have a slightly shorter nighttime sleep period, and often make their sleep polyphasic again, distributing naps throughout the day. It is estimated that at least 40% of people over the age of 65 regularly take a nap.


As with children, napping in the elderly seems to be something natural, which is part of the aging process. However, it must be understood that napping should be natural and not forced. If an elderly person feels tired, sleepy and fatigued, even napping for more than 1 hour a day, he/she should see a sleep specialist for an evaluation.


2. When are naps essential?


Naps in risky situations


Sleeping in situations that involve some risk is always very dangerous. The most talked about and known case is that of sleeping at the wheel. According to data from the Brazilian Association of Traffic Medicine, 42% of traffic accidents are related to sleep. Driving is often a repetitive and monotonous activity. For a person who is already sleepy, falling asleep while driving is almost inevitable.


The same association seen with car accidents can happen with several other types of activities that involve risk. We can put on the list the operation of heavy machinery, sports practice and civil construction. In all these cases, sleepy work can lead to very dangerous accidents.


Avoid performing these functions when you are sleepy. When we are tired, sleep and lack of attention can come on suddenly. Also, don't be fooled into thinking that turning on loud music, opening car windows, or washing your face will make you more awake. The effect of this is minimal and the chance that you will get even more sleepy only increases. If you can't put off the trip or work, try napping first so that the sleep pressure will ease a little. Also, if you feel drowsy while traveling, stop the car somewhere safe and go to sleep. Your trip will take longer if you need to take a nap before or during, but it's certainly a small problem compared to the risks of napping while driving.


Nap among night workers


We live in a 24/7 society and night work is essential to our economy and well-being. However, our physiology is not designed to keep us awake at night. Whenever we turn into a sleepless night, we are giving up our health. This is an even greater danger for night workers. As much as people try to get used to working at night, our bodies are never able to fully adapt to switching from night to day and there are certainly some consequences of this.


One of the main strategies to combat the consequences of shift work is naps. In this case, both pre-shift and during-shift naps appear to be very beneficial, increasing both performance and job satisfaction. Several studies have already shown that scheduled naps improve cognitive performance and reduce the risk of accidents.


If you are a night worker, talk to your employer to ensure that you have a suitable environment for rest at night. This is important for work safety and will certainly lead to increased productivity. Also, find a sleep specialist to design a personalized activity strategy to best suit the night shift.