Can Extreme Napping Offset the Effects of Sleep Deprivation?

Written by on August 30, 2012 in Health - No comments | Print this page

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Most experts recommend that people get between seven to eight hours of sleep every night. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible. In certain situations, physical problems or environmental conditions may cause a person to experience interrupted sleep. Over time, this can result in cognitive and physical impairments, as well as depression. Studies have also shown that interrupted sleep may be linked to serious health problems, such as dementia, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

When people have difficulty achieving solid stretches of continuous sleep, many resort to napping. While this may seem like a good solution, research has shown that it doesn’t always provide ideal results.

Why People Can’t Sleep

In certain situations, people simply cannot reasonably sleep for long periods of time. This is often a problem for military personnel during wartime and for NASA astronauts during space missions. That said, for millions of average, everyday Americans, uninterrupted sleep is a near impossible goal due to sleep apnea, a sleeping disorder characterized by breathing problems that result in frequent waking.

According to Dr. Mark Weiser of Los Angeles, even when sleep apneics get a so-called “full night’s sleep,” they may not be getting enough deep REM sleep.

“Sleep cycles are critical,” he said. “In apneics, they frequently are unable to reach the deeper levels of sleep because of the breathing disorder. Their brains wake them, maybe not all the way, but enough that they can start breathing again. This means that the quality of sleep that a sleep apneic gets through an entire night may be worse than someone without sleep apnea who consciously alters their sleep schedule.”

When external influences prevent uninterrupted sleep, there isn’t much a person can do. That said, when sleep apnea is causing problems, people can get help. In serious situations, patients may receive surgery or CPAP treatments; however, many find great success when they receive oral appliance therapy.

Studying Nappers


Numerous private and military researchers have studied the value of napping for a variety of reasons. Both the United States Air Force and Canadian Marine Pilots have conducted studies to determine whether nap taking might help offset the negative effects associated with pilot sleep deprivation. Ultimately, while these studies have found that brief naps can be helpful at alleviating some of the performance problems associated with sleep deprivation; they have also found that naps are far less valuable than one seven to eight our session of sustained sleep.

Even when subjects were asked to take enough naps to equal a minimum cumulative total of eight hours of sleep, they were found to be less efficient than study participants who slept only six to seven consecutive hours at night. Although researchers aren’t exactly sure why this is, they believe it has something to do with how longer sleep durations promote deeper, restorative REM sleep; while brief sleep durations result in shallower, less restorative sleep.

In the end, although naps may help ward off fatigue; research suggests they aren’t as valuable as continuous, uninterrupted sleep.

This is a guest post.  Ryan Lawrence writes for Off-Topic Media. Image by Angel. Thanks to Dr. Mark Weiser for contributing to this story. Dr. Weiser can be reached at his office in Los Angeles.

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