Napping is done by people all over the world. In some cultures, it is an integral part of everyday life. In China, it is a constitutional right to take a napping break after lunch. In Italy and Spain, they have integrated breaks throughout the day so people can relax and nap. Since napping is so common all over the world it is a pretty interesting question on whether or not it counts as sleep.
Technically naps do count as sleep, but it does not provide the same benefits as nocturnal sleep. Therefore the realistic answer is no. Naps do not count as sleep but should be viewed as restoration so you can manage fatigue and improve performance in the short term.
To answer the question more thoroughly we have decided to list the surrounding factors to the question, which will help you get a better understanding of the answer above.
Table of contents
- Stages of sleep shortly explained
- What is the sleep homeostat?
- How does the time of the day affect napping?
- Why the duration of the nap is important
Stages of sleep shortly explained
Naturally our we go through 4 sleep stages whenever sleeping. The different stages are all beneficial to our bodies in different ways and although some of the stages affect our body more than others, they are all vital for our well-being.
What is the sleep homeostat?
“The homeostatic facet of sleep-wake regulation is keeping track of changes in ‘sleep propensity’ (or ‘sleep need’), which increases during wakefulness and decreases during sleep.”Source: Sciencedirect.com
The sleep homeostat keeps track of our general sleep as well as the specific sleep stages. It helps our body regulate our need for sleep by adjusting the kind of sleep we get.
If you do not get a lot of REM sleep today then your sleep homeostat will try to compensate by letting you have more REM sleep the day after.
This means that some people are able to reach REM sleep just by napping if they have been very sleep-deprived the days prior. In
In general, napping would not let you achieve REM sleep if you have a normal circadian rhythm.
How does the time of the day affect napping?
The time of the day is an important factor when determining your potential benefits of napping. Your body constantly goes through many different cycles and changes throughout a 24h period. This is explained by the circadian clock of humans.
An example could be that humans generally have a higher body temperature during the biological day while having a lower temperature in our biological night.
In regards to sleeping generally reach less of the later stages of sleeping in our biological day meaning that our sleep will be lighter and less restorative.
In our biological night, we usually reach the later stages of sleeping more easily meaning that our sleep will be less interruptive and more restorative.
An example of this is that night shift workers are usually more sleep-deprived than others due to them not sleeping aligned to our circadian clock.
Therefore you should try to nap in the morning, so it does not affect the amount of nocturnal sleep later in the day.
Why the duration of the nap is important
The duration of the nap plays an important role in determining the effects of the nap as well as answering the question of whether or not a nap counts as sleep.
A study from NASA in 1994 showed that their airline pilots improved their performance by 34% and general alertness by 100% just by napping for 20-40 minutes. Generally, it has also been shown that these naps help reduces mistakes and accidents as well as improving mood and performance.
“This nap was associated with improved physiological alertness and performance compared to the No-Rest Group.”Source: NASA
Generally, you should try to keep your naps between 20-40 minutes long as it allows you to reap all the benefits of napping without affecting your nocturnal sleep.
If you sleep more than 90 minutes you should take the nap into account since you would have reached a whole sleep cycle by then. Therefore you should avoid naps that are longer than 40 minutes, so you do not interrupt your sleep pattern.
In conclusion, naps should be seen as a restorative tool that can help you manage fatigue and improve performance short term but should not be seen as sleep.
Although there isn’t a conclusive answer due to the many factors affecting the question you should not view napping as sleep. Instead, you should view it as a restorative tool that you can use to manage fatigue and improve performance short term.
If you are very sleep deprived then napping might be able to count as sleep since it allows you to reach the vital sleep stages that have been neglected previously.