Unlocking the Power of Cat Naps: Boost Your Well-Being

6 Min Read | By Georgia Beech

Last Modified 19 October 2023   First Added 22 September 2023

This article was written and reviewed in line with our editorial policy.

Like your furry companion, sometimes you just want to curl up in a sunny spot and have a little snooze during the day. Cat naps are short bursts of sleep, usually taken in the afternoon, when you need a little pick-me-up.

But are these micro-naps actually helpful for feeling rested? Let’s dive into how to cat nap like the king of the jungle and the benefits of doing so…

How long is a cat nap?

On average, cat naps last 15-30 minutes, energising you to wake up afterwards. Dr Gardner director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona, states:

A power nap, between 15–45 minutes, can improve memory and reduce fatigue for the rest of the day. If you’re otherwise well-rested, that kind of nap can actually boost performance pretty well.

However, it’s worth bearing in mind that sleeping over 30 minutes can cause grogginess.

cat napping outside

Why is it called a cat nap?

Although it’s hard to see when the term cat nap was first used, there is evidence that it was commonly said throughout the 1800s. In 1859, the saying officially became a verb.

As you might have guessed, it’s called a cap nap as it reflects the brief rests our furry felines indulge in. The unique sleep pattern of cats has always fascinated humans. Cats nap for short periods, allowing them to recharge before their next pounce.

Woman having a light sleep

What is the difference between a cat nap and a power nap?

A cat nap is for those looking for a mini-holiday for your brain, where you can relax and feel rejuvenated. This nap type is ideal for those looking to unwind and take a breather from a busy day.

On the other hand, a power nap is more like a rapid boost for the mind. A power nap is shorter than a cat nap and lasts 10-20 minutes. Due to the power nap duration, you are less likely to wake up feeling sluggish. The brain only enters a deep sleep with rapid eye movement (REM) after 20 minutes.

Is it healthy to cat nap?

Taking a cat nap can be a healthy habit for both the body and the mind. These brief rests can help prevent daytime fatigue and make you more alert. Furthermore, evidence suggests that light sleep can improve your risk of common diseases.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, NASA carried out a study to see whether pilots would benefit from napping during the day. The pilots were divided into two groups, where one group would sleep, and the others would stay awake. The study found that the pilots who slept were more alert during their shifts.

Let’s dig into some more benefits of naps:

1. Improve concentration

These quick naps help reduce mental weariness, sharpen attention, and increase alertness by allowing the brain to gather information and recharge. Therefore, allowing yourself a brief shut-eye can be helpful for increasing productivity and mental acuity throughout the day.

2. Boosts mood

Cat naps have the unique capacity to improve mood and foster emotional health. Even a very short amount of sleep can lessen tension, anxiety, and irritation while releasing neurotransmitters that elevate mood. After this mental reset, you feel more upbeat, invigorated, and prepared to take on the day’s problems with a positive outlook.

3. Improves memory

Sleep is crucial for memory enhancement. The brain organises and stores newly learned information during this time, a process called memory consolidation. Even short rest periods are a beneficial technique for enhancing memory and learning capacities because they improve recollection and information retention.

4. Enhanced productivity

Short naps are a productive secret weapon. These brief, deliberate breaks help refresh the mind, fight mental weariness, and increase alertness, improving focus and work performance. You may find you return to work after a little nap with increased vigour and clarity, increasing your productivity and efficiency throughout the day.

5. Reduces risks of heart disease

These little naps can aid in lowering stress levels and blood pressure, two essential aspects of cardiovascular health. Cat naps can be a vital component of a healthy lifestyle that helps prevent heart disease since they encourage relaxation and lessen the stress on the heart.

6. Lower blood pressure

Evidence shows that cat naps lower blood pressure by fostering relaxation and lowering tension. The body’s stress response lessens during these brief rest periods, resulting in a drop in blood pressure. When incorporated into a regular sleep schedule, this short dip in blood pressure can benefit cardiovascular health in general.

sleep time

What is the most effective nap time?

Medical director Charlene Gamaldo at Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Centre advises cat napping between 1 pm-4 pm. Gamaldo says:

Napping this time of day will provide you with the most bang for your buck.

Additionally, keep the rest as short as possible to prevent grogginess. If the sleep is longer than 30 minutes, there is an increased risk of experiencing sleep inertia.

Does cat napping count as sleep?

A cat nap does count as sleep, albeit a short one. Rest is categorised into various stages, including deep sleep (slow-wave sleep) and rapid eye movement (REM). These stages are both essential for revitalising rest.

Throughout a cat nap, the body is most likely to enter the lighter sleep phases, which offer short moments of relaxation. Entering the early stages of sleep, Stage 1 and Stage 2 helps improve alertness. However, a brief nap is too short to enter the deeper stages of sleep, like REM, which is a vital stage for overall well-being.

Guidelines for an optimal cat nap

To reap the benefits of a daytime snooze, follow these tips:

  • Set an alarm: To prevent falling into a deep sleep and feeling groggy after, keep the rest short. Set a timer for 10 or 20 minutes’ time.
  • Time it right: Aim for the early afternoon, when you typically experience a post-lunch energy slump. This fits with the circadian rhythms of your body.
  • Find a peaceful space: Locate a quiet environment away from interruptions and distractions.
  • Create a comfortable set-up: Ensure you have a soft cushion and the room is warm.
  • Reduce the lighting: Create a relaxing space with minimal lighting. Either use a sleep mask or shut the curtains or blinds.
  • Practice relaxation: Muscle relaxation and deep breathing exercises can guide you to a restful state. You can also try the military sleep method to help prepare your body and mind for sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine: Caffeine can interfere with falling asleep, so limit your intake a few hours before your nap.
  • Don’t rush it: Stressing about falling asleep can stop it from happening. Enjoy the benefits of relaxing, as it will still help energise you.
  • Wake up slowly: Take your time to wake up. Give yourself a moment to stretch and take a couple of deep breaths.
Spanish siesta

Cat napping around the world

Each culture has its take on a cat nap and how they embed it in their routine. The siesta is a well-known custom in Mediterranean nations like Spain, where businesses and shops close in the early afternoon so that people can rest and refuel.

Furthermore, the Japanese practice of “inemuri” promotes quick, covert naps in public settings as a symbol of commitment to hard work, not necessarily a lack of energy.

In Middle Eastern cultures, a post-lunch siesta known as the “Tallulah” is thought to increase alertness and productivity. Even though precise traditions and terminology may vary, the value of quick naps is recognised throughout many cultures.

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