We all know that young children and elderly adults take naps as part of their daily regimen. But what about the rest of us?
Humans are one of the only mammals that are not polyphasic sleepers, meaning that we do not sleep for short periods during the day. According to the National Sleep Foundation, instead we are monophasic, and divide our days into two distinct periods of sleep and wakefulness. Studies do not show that this is the natural way of things for the human race, however.
In many cultures, napping is an integral part of the day. The siesta, which is Spanish for nap, is a short period of sleep common to areas of the world where temperatures are warm year-round. In Spain, Italy and many Latin American countries, the people partake in a siesta each day, sometimes for up to three hours, usually directly after the midday meal, in order to avoid the hottest part of the day.
But is napping necessary for adults? The National Sleep Foundation deems them not necessary, but highly recommended. A short nap, usually for around 20-30 minutes, has been scientifically proven to improve alertness and performance, without affecting your ability to sleep at night. Napping may also help improve cardiovascular health, including high blood pressure.
In conjunction with these physical benefits, napping can act as a mini-vacation, providing an easy way to relax and rejuvenate. However, it is important to note the time of day you choose to rest – taking a nap too late in the day might affect your sleep patterns, rendering you wide awake when the rest of the house is sleeping. Alternately, a nap too early in the day may prove difficult, since the body is not usually ready to sleep again so soon after waking.
In recent studies, findings suggest that humans have a biological need for afternoon naps. The biological clock, which regulates functions such as blood pressure and hormone secretion, tells us when we need to rest in order to stay healthy and balanced. In conjunction with our biological clock, the Circadian Rhythm regulates daily rhythms in the body. These two regulatory mechanisms give humans the tendency to become tired in the mid-afternoon, usually about 8 hours after waking up.
Although napping is generally touted for its health benefits, a study done by the University of Birmingham showed a slight link to napping and the development of Type 2 Diabetes. However, napping remains less likely to cause Type 2 Diabetes than already established risks such as being overweight and genetics. Any concerns about lack of sleep or your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes should be discussed with your health care provider.