By Isadora Baum

Setting aside a half hour in the day for a nap can be really refreshing and enjoyable, and it can help you out when you need that energy boost without the caffeine. (Or, FYI, you can take both together, for a coffee nap.) However, can it really make up for missed sleep?

napping
credit: Twenty20

"Napping is a hotly debated topic. Whether or not it can 'make up' for lost sleep really depends on how you define 'making up' for sleep," says Chris Brantner, Certified Sleep Science Coach at SleepZoo.com. "Short afternoon naps have been shown to increase alertness and productivity. However, napping shouldn't be used as a sleep replacement, as substituting naps for a solid night's sleep can make things worse," he says.

So, let's be clear, napping is good for you. "I encourage patients to take a power nap if they need it. It doesn't replace sleep however, and longer naps may actually hurt or disrupt regular sleep cycles," says Dr. Elizabeth Trattner, an integrative medicine expert. It's best to stick to 20-30 minutes total, she says, based on research.

Still, why isn't it enough in terms of sleep? It has to do with our circadian rhythm patterns. "Our natural inclination is to sleep at night. Our bodies are essentially programmed to sleep at night and to go through the various stages of the sleep cycle multiple times," Brantner says. And, there are several benefits to sleeping that can impact our health and wellbeing.

"On the other hand, it's more difficult to get to sleep during the day, and more difficult to get through the sleep cycles. In fact, should you nap too long, you're more likely to wake up groggy and discombobulated. Not only that, a nap lasting too long, or a nap taken too late in the day, can have a negative effect on the next night's sleep, creating a vicious circle of sleep deprivation," he explains.

So, can a nap help you feel better during the day? Sure. Can it serve as an ongoing substitute for lack of nighttime sleep? Definitely not. Your body wants to shut down at night, and it's next to impossible to replace that.