Q. Ever since I retired last year, I've enjoyed taking
an afternoon nap whenever it's convenient. My wife says napping
will turn me into an old man. I can easily give up my naps if
she's right â€” but is she?
A. Daytime sleepiness can result from insuffi cient
nighttime sleep. Causes range from simply not devoting enough
time to sleep to medical problems that impair the quality of
sleep; restless legs syndrome, obstructive sleep apnea, and
conditions that produce excessive nighttime urination are
examples. And in some cases, daytime sleepiness can result from
medical problems such as depression or an underactive thyroid.
Fortunately, your situation sounds completely different. People
who are sleep deprived feel groggy during the day and may fall
asleep when they least want to, perhaps at their desks or behind
the wheel. Voluntary napping, on the other hand, is not a sign of
sleep deprivation, illness, or aging. In fact, a "power nap" can
be helpful as well as enjoyable.
NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration found that strategic
naps can help. They studied 200 airline flight crews, each of
which conducted eight nine-hour trans-Pacific flights during a
span of 12 days. Half the crews stayed awake as usual, while the
others took 40-minute naps in rotation. Intensive evaluations
showed that napping improved subsequent alertness and
These high-flying conclusions don't stand alone. In fact, many
studies in shift workers and other volunteers have reported that
a nap as brief as 20 minutes can improve alertness, psychomotor
performance, and mood.
Naps, however, can produce problems of their own. One problem is
sleep inertia or grogginess and disorientation that may accompany
awakening from deep sleep. The second potential problem is
To get the benefit of a quick snooze without being caught
napping, plan to take your nap at a good time in your daily
sleep-wake cycle; for many people, sometime between noon and 4
p.m. is best. Don't sleep too long; a 20- to 40-minute nap may
refresh your day without keeping you up at night. And give
yourself 10 or 15 minutes to wake up fully before you resume a
I hope your wife won't lose sleep over my answer. Perhaps the
best way to win her over would be to get her to take a nap or two
â€” if she tries it, she may like it.
â€” Harvey B. Simon, M.D.Editor, Harvard Men's Health