To nap or not to nap: that is the question for those with daytime grogginess. When nighttime sleep is restless, the urge to nod off can be irresistible–at work or anywhere else.

Whether you’re an overt napper or just finally give in, you’ve probably wondered how long a nap is too long and whether napping might be a symptom or cause of a bigger health issue. So here’s some basic guidance from the latest sleep research on the best ways to nap and what nappers should consider health-wise.

As to duration, the scientific consensus is to keep your naps to 20 minutes or fewer. Go much longer and you run the risk of disrupting your biological clock. The after-effect (called “sleep inertia”) is similar to jet lag and can take hours of recovery, and will also interfere with sleeping at night. Since caffeine takes about 20 minutes to kick in, you can toss back a couple swigs of coffee before napping to set an internal alarm clock.

And according to sleep science it’s also best to plan your naps instead of allowing grogginess to creep up on you. This will help regulate your circadian schedule and also prevent nodding off behind the wheel.

As to health concerns, the latest thinking is that long, erratic napping is more likely a symptom rather than cause of other problems–the most common being disrupted nighttime sleep due to sleep apnea. Apnea is caused by an obstruction that interferes with breathing and limits oxygen flow to the brain. The condition effects more than 29 million Americans, most of whom are undiagnosed, and it’s dangerous for several reasons beyond just making you groggy, including an elevated risk of heart disease and stroke.

Daytime sleepiness is also linked to diabetes, again as a symptom rather than cause. In rarer cases it may be a symptom of Parkinson’s disease. There’s also a strong link between erratic daytime sleepiness and depression.


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