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Naps insufficient substitutes for sleep deprivation, says Rutgers professor

Naps during the day are not an uncommon habit for Rutgers students. Andreas Spaeth, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health, said naps can cause a harmful sleep cycle. – Photo by Dustin Niles

Students at Rutgers face the task of managing a proper balance between their daily schedules and sleep. It turns out that naps may not be the solution to a sleepless night. 

Andrea Spaeth, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health, said naps cannot be perfect substitutes for a full seven-hour rest at night. 

“Daytime sleep is not as high quality as nighttime sleep,” she said.

Ideally, a person would get all of their sleep at night so that it would align with their circadian rhythm — one's biological clock that outlines when and how much sleep one should have — to reach optimal sleep quality and health outcomes. 

Spaeth said that napping creates a harmful cycle. Sleeping during the day leads to less desire to sleep at night and, as a result, a person who naps would stay up later and get less sleep. The next day, they would feel sleepy during the day and nap again, repeating the cycle.

Spaeth advises students who do nap to gradually shorten naps and take them earlier in the day. By doing this, they would eventually be able to shift their sleep to the nighttime period over time.

Specializing in understanding the relationship between a person's sleep and metabolic health, Spaeth said these circumstances can affect a person physically and mentally. Lack of sleep, even with naps, contributes to chronic health problems such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. There is also a link between lack of sleep and mental health problems.

“Research consistently shows that individuals who obtain insufficient sleep are at increased risk for anxiety and depression, experience negative moods and exhibit greater reactivity to mild stressors,” she said.

The experience of students at the University affirm her research that naps are not enough. Catherine Tuite, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year, said she understands how important sleep is, especially as a college student. With her ever-changing schedule, some days require 12 hours of studying for classes and homework that can keep her up past midnight. A full seven hours of sleep is not feasible for her. 

“They’re nice when they last and can feel necessary, but in reality, they just ruin my body clock,” she said. 

As a result, Tuite sees napping as a useful but temporary solution for her lack of sleep. Taking naps ended up causing her circadian rhythm to fall out of sync.

Naps are not only insufficient, but also difficult in general to fit into a schedule. Tuite said she naps in public places because it is more convenient than walking back to her apartment, but is aware of how awkward it feels to fall asleep in front of others. 

While some students resort to naps, Skylar Lewis, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior, believes they are unnecessary, and that staying on top of course loads is a better solution. She said that napping was actually a setback to her daily plans.

“If I do nap and I wake up, I’m still tired,” she said.

To avoid becoming dependent on naps, Lewis said she established a consistent schedule that prioritized her coursework and relied on coffee as a daily supplement.

“If I don’t get enough sleep, I will take a nap the next day as long as I don’t have anything going on. But I try not to because when I take naps, I take four-hour naps,” she said.

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