Catch that 30 winks

May 01, 2023 12:00 am | Updated 05:43 am IST

While naps can help cope with stress and boost memory, they are not a substitute for a restful night’s sleep

Between attending classes, completing your coursework, working on your internship, and applying for your Master’s, you are juggling way too many balls. Thus, often, you cut back on sleep and, during the day, when drowsiness starts clouding your mind, you refuel with caffeine. You think you can soldier on like this for a few more days.

But, compromising on sleep can have adverse consequences on many fronts: from suboptimal learning and lowered immunity to putting you at risk for a number of psychological disorders. As far as possible, try to get at least seven hours of undisturbed sleep at night. You might even consider dropping one activity till your exams are over. That said, there is another technique you can adopt to boost productivity and reduce the deleterious effects of your sleep deficit over the short-term.

In an article on the website Psyche , sleep scientists Ruth Leong and Michael Chee discuss the science of napping. Naps, according to them, are brief stretches of “sleep that occur outside a main nocturnal period”. Further, naps are intentional, unlike dozing off while reading or watching television. Research suggests that naps can help tide you through stressful periods when you aren’t able to get sufficient sleep at night.


Through their own research, Leong and Chee worked with adolescents who had reduced sleep for consecutive nights to around five to six hours per night. If these students were allowed to nap during the day for an hour to 90 minutes, they were as alert and attentive as a control group that had nine hours of sleep at night. The researchers, however, caution that napping cannot serve as a substitute for prolonged sleep deprivation.

Further, researchers found that napping need not only be used during periods of reduced sleep. Napping, during the day, may be used to enhance performance even when you have had a good night’s rest. Leong and Chee cite a study that involved remembering a set of facts, for which participants were divided into three groups. The first had two learning sessions punctuated by a 60-minute nap. The second was given a one-hour break between the sessions. The third group would continue studying without taking a break.

All three were first tested half an hour after the second session. The nappers and the crammers outperformed those who simply took a break. However, when the subjects were re-tested after a week, the napping group was the only one that maintained its advantage. Thus, if you have a lot to study, napping may actually enhance your learning and memory.

The authors point out that the duration of napping has to be tailored to your needs. If you are getting sufficient sleep at night but want to use naps to promote alertness or learning, then a 10-30 minute nap may rejuvenate you. However, if you aren’t getting a good night’s rest, then a one-hour nap may be better. The longer your nap duration, the more likely you will experience sleep inertia, the grogginess that befogs you upon waking. But this usually subsides within 30 minutes of waking. The ideal time to nap for most people is mid-afternoon.

In an article in The New York Times , writer Jyoti Madhusoodanan cautions that naps usually involve only the “lighter phases of sleep” and do not provide the complete restorative benefits of deep sleep. Though you may use naps to bolster your learning and alertness, try to clock in at least seven hours of sleep for a more healthful, zestful life.

The writer is the author of Zero Limits: Things Every 20-Something Should Know. She blogs at

Napping, during the day, may be used to enhance performance even when you have had a good night’s rest.

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