Sleep on this: Why, how and when napping can be healthy

As the crisp October weather hits Champaign-Urbana, students may find themselves reaching for wool scarves and a nice cup of tea, curling up with a blanket and textbook. The stress of upcoming exams combined with the familiar autumn season creates the perfect setting for the common student nap.

Veteran student nappers recognize three types of basic naps — planned napping, emergency napping and habitual napping. To take full advantage of these cherished naps, the inexperienced freshman napper should find a quiet, comfortable environment with few distractions. Bryanne Kalous, sophomore in ACES, recommends taking a nap on the Quad, in the Illini Union or in a dorm room.

“The Illini Union is a great place to nap because it’s a quiet, relaxing area with several couches, and it’s a convenient location to go between classes,” Kalous said.

Napping may be a mainstream activity across the University campus, but it still has stigmas associated with it. The National Sleep Foundation found that many believe napping is only for children, the sick or the elderly. Some also view napping as a sign of laziness or weakness.

“Our society is very achievement-oriented, causing people to skimp on sleep and work long hours. Everyone wants to multi-task and be efficient,” said Dr. Sandra Goss Lucas, retired director of Introductory Psychology. “Some cultures implement napping into daily life. In our culture, however, naps are often frowned upon because people view them as unnecessary.”

While these misconceptions exist, one should know that napping could remedy students’ nighttime problems. According to the McKinley Health Center’s Sleep Guide, most students do not get enough sleep each night because of a lack of time, stress, poor sleep hygiene, side effects of medication and lack of exercise.

As a result, sleep-deprived students may experience anxiety, cognitive difficulties, depression and reduced physical health. While napping cannot replace nighttime sleep, it alleviates these problems and leads to numerous benefits.

The Mayo Clinic website states that napping can improve one’s mental and physical stamina, such as enhanced mood, alertness and performance. Naps can specifically help one’s performance by improving reaction time and memory, as well as reducing confusion and accidents.

Napping strongly benefits those who drive for extended hours, such as driving home from Champaign-Urbana, or those who do shift work, such as working at the Dining Hall or the ARC.

While napping has its pros, it also has its cons.

“For some individuals, napping can actually cause more problems later in the day,” said Jennifer Carson, wellness promotion specialist and stress management coordinator for McKinley Health Center. “Napping for too long can lead to sleep inertia, meaning the individual will experience grogginess.”

Another con is that napping too late in the day could cause trouble sleeping at night.

“If you’re not too careful with managing the length of your naps, it could become a vicious cycle of sleep disturbances at night,” Carson said.

Lastly, napping should not be used as an avoidance mechanism.

“Napping can also turn into further procrastination if students cannot get back on track and focus on what they need to accomplish during the rest of the day,” Carson said.

To reap the benefits of a nap, time management is key. Dr. Goss Lucas recommends that students should nap for either 15 minutes or 90 minutes.

Dr. Goss Lucas said that if an individual wakes up from a nap between the 15-minute and 90-minute marker, he or she will experience serious sleep inertia because the stage of deep, slow wave sleep will be interrupted.

While the recommended length of a nap is set, the best time to nap depends completely on the individual’s lifestyle and sleeping pattern on a daily basis. Those who are contemplating a nap should first find out if they are an ‘early bird’ or a ‘night owl.’ For an early bird, a nap would be most favorable at 1 or 1:30 p.m. A night owl, on the other hand, would most benefit from a nap at 2:30 to 3 p.m.

Whether the desire comes from the chilly weather, the stress from midterms or the softness of one’s childhood blanket, incorporating a nap into one’s daily schedule is a suggestion to consider.