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Should I nap?
As a general rule no. If you feel the need to nap you are probably not sleeping enough at night. If you nap you will reduce your need for sleep, making sleeping at night harder. This becomes a vicious circle.
You should prioritise a full 7 – 8 hours of sleep at night. This is when all the crucial body and brain restoration occurs. Avoid the nap to make sure this happens.
However, naps can be useful sometimes to some people:
If you’re doing a LOT of exercise or have just completed an endurance event. Naps can help cellular repair and building new muscles as you might not be getting enough of this done during a normal night’s sleep.
If you are learning a lot, a nap can help empty your short term memory store (hippocampus) and move information into longer term storage in your neocortex. This frees up space in your hippocampus and allows you to carry on learning new information. If you want to know more about how important sleep is to learning, click here.
If you are about to experience unavoidable sleep deprivation, a nap to get your brain as refreshed as it can be is the way to go. This is ideal if you’re a pilot about to fly a 16 hour leg or a soldier about to go on an 18 hours march. This is not for those of us who feel a bit sleepy after lunch.
Can I catch up on my sleep at the weekend?
No, not really.
Sleeping in feels great. Sleeping for 9 hours when you’ve been limited to less than 7 during the week because of work is obviously lovely. You will wake feeling refreshed. You’ve had a load of deep NREM sleep and your body and mind will feel restored.
It doesn’t however make up for the lost performance or learning opportunities you have missed out on during the previous week. The reduced muscle and cellular repair. The lost creativity and reduced emotional intelligence. In this sense the damage has already been done. It’s like putting sunscreen on when you’re already burnt.
In addition, any ongoing effects of sleep deprivation such as slowed reaction times return almost immediately. The effects of binge sleeping lasts less than a couple of days. You cannot build up sleep credits. A few bigs sleeps does not build up a buffer to the effects of poor sleep later in the week.