Does your teen love taking naps? With intense sports practices, piled-on homework and altered circadian rhythms1, many teens take naps as soon they get home from school, attend practice and do homework, and then fall asleep later than parents like. Likewise, older teens and young adults at college tend to fall into the same routine-studying into the wee hours of the night, taking the test and then napping in the middle of the day.
As a parent, you may nag your teen, worried they are hurting their cognitive ability or their health by breaking up their sleep, but do you really know for sure if it’s good or bad for them? A new study2 by researchers at Duke-NUS Medical School may bring peace-of-mind, at least when it comes to maintaining brain power.
The good news for adults who love to nap is that studies have shown that “split sleep schedules,” or getting the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, whether through a shorter night cycle plus a nap or a longer night cycle alone, yield no difference in mental performance.
But no studies had been done on teens until this one.
For the study, researchers split a group of 15-19 year olds into two groups and studied their cognitive ability and their blood glucose levels over a period of two weeks. During the study period, all the students were restricted to a total of 6.5 hours of sleep per 24 hour period during the week, and allowed recovery sleep over the weekend, which mirrors pretty closely to what many teens do in the real world. One group slept 5 hours per night, and 1.5 hours during the day, while the other group slept 6.5 hours per night with no nap.
Interestingly, the group who split their sleep into two different periods, a longer period at night and a shorter nap during the day, performed better on cognitive tests than did the group who slept the same amount, but in one session at night. However, the group who slept continuously through the night had better blood glucose levels than did the nappers. It’s not clear how that will affect the risk of developing diabetes in the future.2
Teens aren’t the only ones who love to nap. Some famous “nappers” include Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Napoleon, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and George W. Bush3 Napping has been shown to increase alertness, boost mood and decrease the risk of accidents, but unfortunately it often comes with the negative stigmas of being lazy, sick or old. If you do decide to embrace your love for napping, it’s best to keep it between 20-30 minutes for optimal alertness and to decrease the chances of your nap interfering with your bedtime. 3
1 neurologytimes.com/blog/teenage-circadian-rhythmlink opens in a new window
2 Duke-NUS Medical School. "Split and continuous sleep in teens impact cognition and glucose levels differently." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 February 2019. sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190222101312.htmlink opens in a new window
3 sleepfoundation.org/articles/nappinglink opens in a new window