The health benefits of napping


Just because you’d prefer to spend your afternoon sleeping on the dock rather than wakeboarding on the lake, doesn’t mean that you’re being lazy. In fact, research has shown that a solid afternoon—or morning, or early evening, or really, anytime—nap is good for you.

So the next time someone teases you for dozing off midday, use one of these handy retorts to prove that you’re actually improving your health.

“I’m not just sleeping—I’m learning.”

This might seem like a stretch, but a daytime nap has been proven to help subjects retain new information. Researchers in Brazil examined the effects of napping on 584 students aged 10 to 15 years old. They discovered that those who were allowed to “sleep on it”—or have a nap directly after hearing a 15-minute lecture on new information—were better able to remember what they’d learned.

This doesn’t just apply to teenagers. A 2003 Harvard study of adults found that naps of 60 to 90 minutes enhance perceptual learning, to nearly to the same extant as an eight-hour sleep. So if you fall asleep while reading that non-fiction tome you’ve been meaning to finish forever (we know it happens), it’s okay—you’re simply digesting what you’ve just read.

“I’m working on my beach body.”

Okay, sure, maybe sleeping is the very definition of inactivity. But taking a nap might also improve your performance in the next cottage game of beach volleyball.

Researchers at Stanford found that athletes who got more sleep were faster, had better endurance, and a lower heart rate. Sleep also helps you stay slim—a lack of sleep triggers the production of hormones that make you want to eat more, and lowers the level of hormones that tell you when you’re full.

“I’m resting up in preparation for our evening Trivial Pursuit match.”

Having an afternoon siesta can improve alertness, as well as reduce mistakes and accidents. According to Harvard Medical School and sleep researcher Robert Stickgold, napping makes people “more effective problem solvers” and helps people “separate important information from extraneous details.”

In recent separate studies of nurses, physicians, and air traffic controllers doing shift work, naps also improved cognitive functioning. While cottage board games might not be on par with brain surgery or landing a jetliner, getting a little extra REM might just help you win the next round of euchre.

“I’m getting my beauty sleep.”

It turns out that it’s not just a phrase. Researchers in Sweden asked viewers to rate the attractiveness of people after they’d had a solid eight hours of sleep and after they’d been kept awake for 31 hours.

The verdict? “Sleep deprived people are perceived as less attractive, less healthy, and more tired compared with when they are well rested,” concluded the researchers. So lay back, Sleeping Beauty, and get some shuteye.

“It’s a stress prevention technique.”  

Let’s not forget the main reason we come to the cottage in the first place—to relax. And maybe this is a no-brainer, but a little daytime snooze helps you chill out.

If this isn’t stating the obvious, then look to the research. Scientists from Allegheny College in Pennsylvania studied the effects of sleep on 85 university students. Their study found that those who slept for at least 45 minutes during the day had a lower blood pressure after psychological stress, compared to those who didn’t get the extra shut-eye.