Normalizing Napping

There is a science behind taking the perfect nap


Jakob Jones, OMN Photographer

In this photo illustration, First-year student Sam Misa takes a nap in a dimly lit, empty room.

Agrizha Puspita Sari, Beaver's Digest Contributor

Napping is a real treat for college students who require a daily snooze. 

The stereotype of college students having unpredictable napping times or busy school schedules with less sleeping hours has been the norm. Napping at the incorrect time of day or for an extended period of time can have unintended consequences. When napping has gone too far or not far enough, how can we normalize healthy napping? 

A regular nap is a valuable commodity for such students. But napping can become excessive, as a result of a biologically-determined napping period. For example, some students are more prone to be nappers. 

Jeffrey Mull, a director of medical services and staff physician at Oregon State University’s Student Health Services, explained why napping is not for everyone. 

“While in some cases a nap can improve alertness and decrease reaction time, in other cases a nap may alter circadian cycles and interfere with nighttime sleep. Napping is clearly beneficial for those who are sleep deprived and for night shift workers,” Mull said in an email.

Erick Williams Neri, a fourth-year student studying digital communications arts at OSU, thinks that napping is ingrained in our biology. 

“I don’t know the exact science behind it, but my body always experiences a drop in energy at around 3 or 4 [p.m.], and this is common based on the responses I got from friends and family,” Neri said via email. 

Mull pointed out that there are also benefits for those who just enjoy napping. 

“For most, it seems like the ideal time to nap is in the afternoon and the ideal length of a nap is 10-20 minutes,” Mull said. “Longer naps are not necessarily more helpful in improving alertness and are associated with sleep inertia—a reduction in the ability to think and perform upon awakening due to sleep. Sleep inertia delays the benefits of napping for an hour or two after awakening.”

Neri said he usually naps for about 15 to 20 minutes on an exhausting day. “30 minutes, at most, when I’m really tired, but I try to make it short so I can keep doing other things,” he said.

Many of us who are either biologically predisposed to napping or did not get enough sleep the night before tend to nap during a lecture.

Mull said the best way to avoid napping during morning lectures is to make sure we get adequate sleep the night before. 

“If you are falling asleep during afternoon lectures, it may help to plan a short nap prior to the lecture if possible. Just remember that napping for 30 minutes or more right before a lecture may lead to temporary decrease in alertness due to sleep inertia,” Mull said.

I person takes a nap on a couch in a dark, empty room.
In this photo illustration, first-year student Sam Misa takes a nap in a dimly lit, empty room. (Jakob Jones, OMN Photographer)

Neri added that naps can sometimes turn into complete sleeping sessions—time that he could have used for homework assignments, house chores or even school lectures.

“I’ve never dozed off, but I do tend to get drowsy with long theoretical lectures,” Neri said. “Whenever this happens, I try to participate or comment on whatever the professor is explaining so I could get more engaged with the content.”

One of the most effective napping techniques is to keep track of what we eat throughout the day, especially before bedtime. 

Mull explained that studies also show that the combination of napping and caffeine work better than either alone. 

“Caffeine should be avoided later in the day since it might affect nighttime sleep,” Mull said. “Individuals who are having difficulty sleeping at night should avoid longer naps during the day. There are medical conditions such as sleep apnea and narcolepsy that can cause daytime sleepiness. Sleep studies can diagnose most of these conditions. Depression can also lead to an increase in daytime sleepiness.” 

Neri feels that limiting naps to 15 minutes has helped him greatly with understanding course content better during study sessions. 

“They may seem like short naps but they are highly effective for that matter,” Neri said.

Anika Lautenbach, a coordinator of academic coaching and strategist programs for the Academic Success Center at OSU, referenced two books—“The Science of Learning” by Terry Doyle and Todd Zakrajsek, and “Thriving in College and Beyond” by Joseph Cuseo, Aaron Thompson and Viki Fecas—to help explain the importance of sleep for one’s health and their ability to be successful as a student.

Lautenbach cited:

  • Students who get less sleep than their bodies need typically earn lower grades than students who get a sufficient amount of sleep (Cuseo, Fecas, & Thompson, 2007).
  • Sleep impacts our ability to focus and concentrate, which impacts our ability to take in information, retain it, and ultimately retrieve it later in a test. (Doyle & Zakrajsek, 2019). 
  • If a student finds it difficult to get 7-9 full hours of sleep each night, they can supplement that with naps during the day. In fact, “brief naps of about 20 minutes after class can help you consolidate memories, so they are beneficial to learning” (Doyle & Zakrajsek, 2013).”

“Though it may seem like a “rite of passage” to get little sleep in college, we encourage students to do what they can to prioritize sleep as a way to feel better and help themselves be more successful in their coursework, reduce stress, improve health, and support wellness,” Lautenbach said.

According to Neri, he has felt more relaxed and more motivated to carry out his daily routine, especially after a long day of work and work.

“I think napping is important because it’s a way to refresh your energy hours after waking up in the morning without it being a complete sleep,” Neri said.

According to research, humans are actually built to nap each afternoon—Lautenbach continued to reference “The Science of Learning” and “Thriving in College and Beyond”:

  • Psychologist James Maas points out that naps ‘greatly strengthen the ability to pay close attention to details and make critical decisions.’ (Doyle & Zakrajsek, 2019, p. 31). 

“Overdrawing your body’s energy supply will result in poor health, changed moods, and lower performance,” Lautenbach said. “However, having a consistent sleep routine—which may involve napping during the day—can help to improve both your physical and mental health. A 20 minute nap can also help to consolidate memories.”

  • “During this short nap, new learning becomes more stable. Thus, it will more likely be available in its original form when you go to practice it in the future.” (Doyle & Zakrajsek, 2019, p. 32).

We receive a lot of energy from napping, especially if we had a long day or are sleep deprived. Normalizing healthy, routine napping, particularly for college students, is a key part to our educational success.

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