Could Giving into That Afternoon Power Nap Be Wrecking Your Health?

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Trying to excel in work or school, make time to exercise and eat healthy, and maintain a normal social life is a lot to juggle, so it’s no surprise that sometimes getting enough sleep takes a back seat to other seemingly more important priorities. With our hectic schedules, fitting in sleep any time we can may feel like the only option, but is napping actually good for you? You might think more sleep means less exhaustion and more motivation to live a healthy lifestyle, but a recent study says that that logic might just be flawed. 

The study from Scientific Reports looked at 61 undergraduate college students for 30 days and recorded their sleep habits to determine how irregular sleeping patterns affected their academic performance and circadian rhythms, the circadian rhythm being the internal biological clock that relies on external clues, like daylight, to regulate sleep.

The study separated students into “regular sleepers” and “irregular sleepers.”The regular sleepers were students who habitually slept for seven or eight hours each night, while irregular sleepers were students who squeezed naps in here and there to compensate for poor nights of sleep. The results? Irregular sleepers were ultimately associated with lower academic performance, poor mood, delayed circadian rhythms, and weight gain. Talk about a triple quadruple whammy.

Even more interesting, the subjects of the study all got the same amount of sleep over a 24-hour period, signifying that being well-rested isn’t as much about clocking those sleep hours whenever you can, but about sleeping well over the course of the night and over the course of consecutive hours. 

So just why is it that napping can’t really make up for a not-so-great night of sleep? The science says that when you sleep during the day, you confuse your brain and desensitize your biological clock to the effects of light at nighttime. This also delays the timing of natural melatonin production, the hormone that helps you get to sleep naturally. 

Bottom line: next time you’re crashing in the middle of the day and are tempted to sneak away for a nice afternoon snooze, use that tired feeling to remind yourself that you need to go to bed earlier and start your journey to becoming a “regular sleeper” sooner rather than later.