It’s no secret that teenagers tend to have very chaotic sleep schedules. Between staying up too late and waking up too early, many teens often resort to after school naps to make up for lost sleep and recharge after a tiring day at school. But are these naps really as good as they seem? Local nap enthusiast Akil and ex-napper Sarah discuss the science behind napping below!
When Sarah and I first got into an argument about napping, I had just woken up from one. Whether you nap frequently, or you don’t, the health benefits of a nice nap session cannot be ignored.
Let’s set the scene. You’ve awoken at 7 am, having slept at 12:30 am the night before. You’re dreading the following 8 hours, where you must dress, shower, eat, commute, take notes, write assessments, interact with others, and return home. The stress of school, peer-to-peer interaction, and sleep deficiency requires an outlet for you to channel your exhaustion into. That outlet is the 15-30 minute nap that you make a part of your daily routine.
The effects of napping can be cleaved into two types of benefits: immediate satisfaction and implicit health benefits.
The immediate effects of a nap are clear: lying in bed feels nice, and going to sleep also feels nice. By allowing your body time to rest, you avoid inducing further strain on your joints or wearing out your brain . Napping provides an immediate relief, both mentally and physically.
Moreover, napping allows you to kill time. Kids and adolescents are social creatures, but not all of the time. Teenagers tend to be most active during the night, and thus they tend to talk most during the evening . Napping kills two birds with one stone, both allowing your body and mind time to rest and heal, while also killing time before your friends are online or ready to talk.
Your brain and body work hard in the background to make sure that you’re constantly in a functioning state. Sleep allows the former and latter to work more efficiently. As such, napping has been proven to boost memory retention and productivity during the day, as well as improve nighttime sleep .
Opponents of daytime napping will posit a couple arguments, each of them more flawed than the previous. The first and central idea suggests that napping past a certain length of time, usually past 60 minutes, can leave you groggy and disorganized—as well as introduce a variety of speculated health risks.
As much as we agree that the science behind the argument is relatively sound, the reasoning is not. By and large, many of the negative health consequences of long naps have to do with a lack of personal accountability. If you are unable to wake yourself up after a napping session, perhaps you simply cannot be trusted to nap in the first place.
Additionally, the health complications that might arise are not direct products of long naps, but one’s inability to get satisfying nighttime sleep—of which can worsen your health and create a cycle of insomnia and reliance on napping . Napping is an art, and not everyone can be a skilled artist.
The key here is balance; balancing the amount of time that you nap for is crucial, as well as balancing when you nap. If you find yourself unwilling to nap because you think that it makes it harder for you to sleep at night or that it distracts you from your day, cut down on how much time you spend napping. I guarantee that you’ll start to feel better and it will make your days more manageable.
Don’t Snooze (Sarah)
After school naps are like poisonous apples. They seem harmless and maybe even beneficial, but they will ruin the rest of your day. Like Snow White taking an apple from a random, ugly old lady in the woods, taking naps is for the gullible and weak.
The first trap a young, naive student might fall into is thinking that their afternoon nap will make up for their 3 am bedtime. In fact, by taking naps frequently you are only dooming yourself to a never ending cycle of disjointed sleep. Your afternoon nap might be the very thing preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep and delaying your bedtime.
But what if you have to stay up for schoolwork? Well at that point you could’ve used the time you did to take a nap to instead finish your work so you wouldn’t have to stay up.
You might ask, what does it matter whether you move that sleeping time to the afternoon to stay up. You’re getting the same amount of sleep and work time anyway, right?
In fact studies show that teenagers who supplement their sleep with afternoon naps that are longer than 60 minutes are at a higher risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome due to higher blood glucose concentrations .
Our stubborn, nap-loving students might now argue that their backwards sleep and work schedules helps them stay productive since they may be too tired to concentrate after school. However, taking naps that are longer than 20 minutes will result in REM, the next stage of sleep. Naps that are longer than 45 min enter into deep sleep. Both will leave you feeling groggy for a while after you wake up and will compromise your sleep at night . Feeling groggy will, of course, compromise your productivity for the rest of the day. Meanwhile, fixing your sleep cycle (by not taking naps) so you get a good night’s sleep will leave you feeling less tired after school.
You might think that if all of the above only applies to naps that are longer than twenty minutes, then simply limiting your naps to twenty minutes is an easy fix.
However, for many sleep-deprived teens, dragging yourself out of bed after just 20 min when you’re already comfortable and sleepy is easier said than done. For some, no alarm, parent, or natural disaster could get them out of bed once they fall asleep. The best solution in this case is to avoid taking a nap in the first place so you don’t risk taking harmful long naps.
Additionally, isn’t it better to finish all your work during the day so you can go to bed with a clear mind, as opposed to dozing off to your nap thinking about all the work you still have to do?
Knowing all of this, you might still think that quitting is hopeless when you;ve become so used to napping. But from one former avid napper to another, I assure you it can be done.
One of the first things you can do is quit using your bed for anything other than sleep. We all know how easy it is to fall asleep while scrolling on your phone in bed. So stop laying in bed while on your phone, stop studying in bed, don’t even sit on your bed. This will not only stop you from unwittingly taking naps, but will help your mind associate your bed only with sleep, thus making it easier to fall asleep at night.
One tip is to make your bed every day, either in the morning or after you come back from school. Making your bed neat and tidy will make it less tempting to mess it up before bedtime.
It will take time, and you may end up taking a few naps before you get it right. But soon you will be on the way to a healthier sleep cycle and a more productive lifestyle.
 Xiaopeng Ji, Junxin Li, Jianghong Liu. The Relationship Between Midday Napping And Neurocognitive Function in Early Adolescents. Behavioral Sleep Medicine, 2018; 1 DOI: 10.1080/15402002.2018.1425868