The mid-day nap, sometimes called a siesta, is a ubiquitous occurrence across the lifespan. It is well established that in addition to reducing sleepiness, mid-day naps offer a variety of benefits: memory consolidation, preparation for subsequent learning, executive functioning enhancement, and a boost in emotional stability. These benefits are present even if a sufficient amount of sleep is obtained during the night prior. However, we present a paradox: in spite of these reported benefits of naps, frequent napping has also been associated with numerous negative outcomes (eg, cognitive decline, hypertension, diabetes), particularly in older populations. This association exists even when statistically controlling for relevant health- and sleep-affecting determinants. An emerging hypothesis suggests inflammation is a mediator between mid-day naps and poor health outcomes, yet further research is necessary. Given this, it may be premature to ‘prescribe’ naps as a health enhancer. Herein, we aggregate findings from several branches of sleep research (eg, developmental neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, sleep medicine) to critically examine the paradoxical role of naps in cognitive and somatic health. This review uncovers gaps in the literature to guide research opportunities in the field.
Previous studies have demonstrated that afternoon naps can have a negative effect on subsequent nighttime sleep in children. These studies have mainly been based on sleep questionnaires completed by parents. To investigate the effect of napping on such aspects of sleep quality, we performed a study in which child activity and sleep levels were recorded using actigraphy. The parents were asked to attach actigraphy units to their child’s waist by an adjustable elastic belt and complete a sleep diary for 7 consecutive days. 50 healthy young toddlers of approximately 1.5 years of age were recruited. There was a significant negative correlation between nap duration and both nighttime sleep duration and sleep onset time, suggesting that long nap sleep induces short nighttime sleep duration and late sleep onset time. We also found a significant negative correlation between nap timing and nighttime sleep duration and also a significant positive correlation between nap timing and sleep onset time, suggesting that naps in the late afternoon also lead to short nighttime sleep duration and late sleep onset. Our findings suggest that duration-controlled naps starting early in the afternoon can induce a longer nighttime sleep in full-term infants of approximately 1.5 years of age.
Beneficial effects of napping or bright light exposure on cognitive performance have been reported in participants exposed to sleep loss. Nonetheless, few studies investigated the effect of these potential countermeasures against the temporary drop in performance observed in mid-afternoon, and even less so on cognitive flexibility, a crucial component of executive functions. This study investigated the impact of either an afternoon nap or bright light exposure on post-prandial alterations in task switching performance in well-rested participants. Twenty-five healthy adults participated in two randomized experimental conditions, either wake versus nap (n=15), or bright light versus placebo (n=10). Participants were tested on a switching task three times (morning, post-lunch and late afternoon sessions). The interventions occurred prior to the post-lunch session. In the nap/wake condition, participants either stayed awake watching a 30-minute documentary or had the opportunity to take a nap for 30 minutes. In the bright light/placebo condition, participants watched a documentary under either bright blue light or dim orange light (placebo) for 30 minutes. The switch cost estimates cognitive flexibility and measures task-switching efficiency. Increased switch cost scores indicate higher difficulties to switch between tasks. In both control conditions (wake or placebo), accuracy switch-cost score increased post lunch. Both interventions (nap or bright light) elicited a decrease in accuracy switch-cost score post lunch, which was associated with diminished fatigue and decreased variability in vigilance. Additionally, there was a trend for a post-lunch benefit of bright light with a decreased latency switch-cost score. In the nap group, improvements in accuracy switch-cost score were associated with more NREM sleep stage N1. Thus, exposure to bright light during the post-lunch dip, a countermeasure easily applicable in daily life, results in similar beneficial effects as a short nap on performance in the cognitive flexibility domain with possible additional benefits on latency switch-cost scores.
The purpose of this study was to evaluate the self-reported sleep and napping behaviour of Australian university students and the relationship between napping and daytime functioning. A sample of 280 university first-year psychology students (median age = 19.00 years) completed a 6-item napping behaviour questionnaire, a 12-item Daytime Feelings and Functioning Scale, the Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index and the Epworth Sleepiness Scale. Results indicated that 53.6% of students reported napping with 34% napping at least 1-2 times per week, and 17% napping three or more occasions per week. Long naps, those over 30 minutes, were taken by 77% of the napping students. Sixty-one percent of students reported they took long naps during the post-lunch dip period, from 2-4pm. Students who nap at least once per week reported significantly more problems organizing their thoughts, gaining motivation, concentrating, and finishing tasks than students who did not nap. Students who napped also felt significantly more sleepy and depressed when compared to students who did not nap. The results also indicated that nap frequency increased with daytime sleepiness. The majority of students (51%) reported sleeping 6-7 hours per night or less. Overall, the results from this study suggest that among this population of Australian first-year university students habitual napping is common and may be used in an attempt to compensate for the detrimental effects of excessive sleepiness.
Greater consumption of and access to screen media are known correlates of unhealthy sleep behavior in preschoolers. What remains unknown, however, is the role a child’s media use plays in this association. Parents and guardians of U.S. preschoolers (N = 278, average child age 56 months) provided information about their child’s nightly duration of sleep, daily duration of nap, quantity of screen media use, sneaky media use, and the presence of a screen media device in the bedroom. We assessed four media: television, DVD/VCRs, video games, and computer/Internet. Based on rationales of sleep displacement, the forbidden fruit hypothesis, and social cognitive theory, we predicted that increased consumption of and access to media, along with sneaky media use, would predict a shorter duration of nightly sleep and longer duration of daily nap across the four screen media. In correlational analyses, a clear pattern emerged with quantity of media use, screen media in the bedroom, and sneaky media use associated with shorter nightly duration of sleep and longer duration of daily nap. In regression analyses, only weekday evening television viewing and sneaky media use predicted shorter nightly sleep duration; weekend morning and evening DVD use predicted longer naps.
Reality-monitoring errors occur when internally generated thoughts are remembered as external occurrences. We hypothesized that sleep-dependent memory consolidation could reduce them by strengthening connections between items and their contexts during an afternoon nap. Participants viewed words and imagined their referents. Pictures of the referents also accompanied half of the words. After a 2-h break filled with sleep (n = 31) or wakefulness (n = 32), participants indicated if they previously viewed a picture of each word. Nap participants made fewer reality-monitoring errors than wake participants by adopting more stringent response criteria, suggesting that sleep reduces reality-monitoring errors primarily by influencing post-retrieval decision processes.
Many studies investigating sleep and memory consolidation have evaluated full-night sleep rather than alternative sleep periods such as daytime naps. This multi-centre study followed up on, and was compared with, an earlier full-night study (Schabus et al., 2004) investigating the relevance of daytime naps for the consolidation of declarative and procedural memory. Seventy-six participants were randomly assigned to a nap or wake group, and performed a declarative word-pair association or procedural mirror-tracing task. Performance changes from before to after a 90-min retention interval filled with sleep or quiet wakefulness were evaluated between groups. Associations between performance changes, sleep architecture, spindles, and slow oscillations were investigated. For the declarative task we observed a trend towards stronger forgetting across a wake period compared with a nap period, and a trend towards memory increase over the full-night. For the procedural task, accuracy was significantly decreased following daytime wakefulness, showed a trend to increase with a daytime nap, and significantly increased across full-night sleep. For the nap protocol, neither sleep stages, spindles, nor slow oscillations predicted performance changes. A direct comparison of day and nighttime sleep revealed that daytime naps are characterized by significantly lower spindle density, but higher spindle activity and amplitude compared with full-night sleep. In summary, data indicate that daytime naps protect procedural memories from deterioration, whereas full-night sleep improves performance. Given behavioural and physiological differences between day and nighttime sleep, future studies should try to characterize potential differential effects of full-night and daytime sleep with regard to sleep-dependent memory consolidation.
There is a growing interest in the application of psychophysiological signals in more applied settings. Unidirectional sensory motor rhythm-training (SMR) has demonstrated consistent effects on sleep. In this study the main aim was to analyze to what extent participants could gain voluntary control over sleep-related parameters and secondarily to assess possible influences of this training on sleep metrics. Bidirectional training of SMR as well as heart rate variability (HRV) was used to assess the feasibility of training these parameters as possible brain computer interfaces (BCI) signals, and assess effects normally associated with unidirectional SMR training such as the influence on objective and subjective sleep parameters. Participants (n = 26) received between 11 and 21 training sessions during 7 weeks in which they received feedback on their personalized threshold for either SMR or HRV activity, for both up- and down regulation. During a pre- and post-test a sleep log was kept and participants used a wrist actigraph. Participants were asked to take an afternoon nap on the first day at the testing facility. During napping, sleep spindles were assessed as well as self-reported sleep measures of the nap. Although the training demonstrated successful learning to increase and decrease SMR and HRV activity, no effects were found of bidirectional training on sleep spindles, actigraphy, sleep diaries, and self-reported sleep quality. As such it is concluded that bidirectional SMR and HRV training can be safely used as a BCI and participants were able to improve their control over physiological signals with bidirectional training, whereas the application of bidirectional SMR and HRV training did not lead to significant changes of sleep quality in this healthy population.
Extended nap opportunities have been effective in maintaining alertness in the context of extended night shifts (+12 h). However, there is limited evidence of their efficacy during 8-h shifts. Thus, this study explored the effects of extended naps on cognitive, physiological and perceptual responses during four simulated, 8-h night shifts. In a laboratory setting, 32 participants were allocated to one of three conditions. All participants completed four consecutive, 8-h night shifts, with the arrangements differing by condition. The fixed night condition worked from 22h00 to 06h00, while the nap early group worked from 20h00 to 08h00 and napped between 00h00 and 03h20. The nap late group worked from 00h00 to 12h00 and napped between 04h00 and 07h20. Nap length was limited to 3 hours and 20 minutes. Participants performed a simple beading task during each shift, while also completing six to eight test batteries roughly every 2 h. During each shift, six test batteries were completed, in which the following measures were taken. Performance indicators included beading output, eye accommodation time, choice reaction time, visual vigilance, simple reaction time, processing speed and object recognition, working memory, motor response time and tracking performance. Physiological measures included heart rate and tympanic temperature, whereas subjective sleepiness and reported sleep length and quality while outside the laboratory constituted the self reported measures. Both naps reduced subjective sleepiness but did not alter the circadian and homeostatic-related changes in cognitive and physiological measures, relative to the fixed night condition. Additionally, there was evidence of sleep inertia following each nap, which resulted in transient reductions in certain perceptual cognitive performance measures. The present study suggested that there were some benefits associated with including an extended nap during 8-h night shifts. However, the effects of sleep inertia need to be effectively managed to ensure that post-nap alertness and performance is maintained.
The present study investigated the parameters of nocturnal sleep that mediate the relationship between morningness-eveningness preference and the sleep architecture of naps in university students. This study had a cross-sectional, descriptive correlational design. The sleep architecture of 52 students invited to take an afternoon nap in the laboratory was recorded. The morningness-eveningness questionnaire (MEQ) was used to evaluate morningness-eveningness preference. An actigraph was used to collect students' nighttime sleep data in the week preceding the study. Polysomnography was used to measure the sleep architecture of the participants' naps. After adjustments for potential factors, although the MEQ did not directly correlate with the percentage of sleep stages in naps, the effects of the MEQ on the percentage of Stage 1 sleep, slow-wave sleep, and rapid eye movement sleep; sleep duration; and sleep efficiency of naps were mediated by the total sleep time in the preceding week. This preliminary study suggests that nap quality was affected by morningness-eveningness preference through the mediation of total nocturnal sleep time. Therefore, future studies should be carefully designed to consider nighttime sleep patterns when analyzing the effects of chronotypes on daytime sleep.