Can a 'Depression Nap' Actually Improve Your Mood?

What psychologists want you to know before you take a snooze to shut out the world.

Maybe you've taken one and didn't know there was a name for it. Or you rely on an afternoon nap and can't go a day without it. A "depression nap," which is not a medical term, is a period of sleep that some people take when they feel tired or down and need a little boost to get through the day.

Most of us (except maybe defiant toddlers) would love to squeeze in a nap during the day. But experts aren't so sure a depression nap is a good idea.

What’s the Purpose of a Depression Nap?

Some people who swear by "depression naps" might feel tired all the time and therefore sleep more than usual. Others sleep as a way to escape what's bothering them.

"If [napping] is being used to avoid doing or confronting difficult things or is being done excessively while connected to depressed feelings or low energy, then it may be a symptom of a psychological disorder such as depression, anxiety, or insomnia," said Simon Rego, PsyD, chief psychologist at the Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

Does Depression Make You Tired?

Sleep problems are common among people with clinical depression—up to 90% of people with depression report issues with sleep. This can include sleeping too much (hypersomnia), difficulty sleeping (insomnia), or waking up way before your alarm (early morning awakenings). With this in mind, it makes sense that fatigue is very common as well.

Hypersomnia and insomnia are both symptoms of depression, as noted in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). When possible, discuss any sudden change in sleep needs with a healthcare provider since it could point to an underlying health condition such as clinical depression.

It may sound odd that two people with depression can see their sleep habits go in opposite directions, with one sleeping much more and the other sleeping much less. But it's important to remember that depression manifests differently from person to person, depending on many factors.

Some people with depression feel restless and wound up and have trouble falling or staying asleep. Others feel exhausted and feel that they need more rest as a way to reset.

If you have difficulty dozing off at night, napping is probably off the table. In many cases, daytime shut-eye may make that process more difficult. Many physicians recommend staying awake as much as possible throughout the day so you'll be more tired at night. This can also benefit your mental health since sleep problems can make depression worse and treatment more difficult.

However, some people who are sleep-deprived may still benefit from a quick nap during the day. Whether or not a nap will worsen sleep problems depends on the person and should be discussed with a physician.

Is Napping Healthy?

Napping can be good for some people and in some situations. A quick nap can:

  • Improve alertness
  • Strengthen your performance at work and cut back on mistakes and accidents
  • Help you feel relaxed and rejuvenated for the rest of your day

Wanting to wake up refreshed and ready to tackle a difficult task is different from using sleep to ignore that challenge entirely.

"If you're napping to avoid a task that is difficult, in many cases, that's not an adaptive way of coping," said sleep psychologist Kelly Baron, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "Rather than confronting what's making you feel anxious and getting it over with, you're procrastinating, which can make anxiety feel worse."

It's also important to note that when experts talk about healthy naps, they're not talking about naps that last hours. While longer naps of around 90 minutes can be helpful for some people who need the energy (for example, emergency responders like firefighters), they can make it harder to fall asleep at night.

In most situations, the ideal nap is around 15-30 minutes long. Meditation and body relaxation can also be helpful if napping isn't possible.

When Should You See a Healthcare Provider?

It's normal to feel a little sleepy during the day, especially in the afternoon when there's a natural dip in our circadian rhythms. And some people with certain mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder or psychosis, may need an afternoon nap to get the sleep necessary to avoid episodes.

Regardless, it's probably not so good if you sleep for long hours at night yet still feel like you need a nap to get through the day, every day. In this case, seeing a healthcare provider would be a good idea. They may even point you to a sleep specialist in case an undiagnosed condition like sleep apnea could be causing your daytime drowsiness.

You may also want to see a healthcare provider if you regularly take naps yet don't feel refreshed or if your tiredness or sleep problems are interfering with your life or not improving with proper sleep habits. If you often use "depression naps" to escape real life, that's something to discuss with a licensed mental health professional.

How Can You Cope With Tiredness From Depression?

"While napping itself is not necessarily a problematic behavior," Rego said, "it's important to be clear on why you're napping."

If you need an occasional "depression nap," there's probably no actual harm in taking a little break from it all once in a while, as long as you're using that snooze to feel more alert and more productive when you wake up.

To boost your energy even further, you may want to take some caffeine right before a quick nap. Caffeine takes about 30 minutes to kick in completely, so you should feel the effects of the caffeine when you wake up.

However, this may not be the best strategy for some people. After consulting with their healthcare provider, people who take certain medications or have health conditions, such as anxiety or high blood pressure, may find it better to limit or avoid caffeine. Caffeine can also make it harder for many people to fall asleep at night.

Other ways to boost your energy after a nap include washing your face and exposing yourself to bright light. For most people, it's best to nap early in the morning or the middle of the afternoon. Don't forget that, in most cases, the ideal nap is no longer than 30 minutes.

If you don't have time to take naps, or you've noticed that napping has ill effects on you, there are some other steps you can take to alleviate tiredness, including:

  • Appropriate exposure to light, especially early in the day
  • Healthy diet
  • Proper sleep hygiene
  • Regular physical activity
  • Using caffeine (in moderation and early in the day, after consulting with a healthcare provider)

If you're still experiencing tiredness from depression, talk to a healthcare provider. Treatments are available, including cognitive-behavioral therapy. Also, since certain antidepressants can cause tiredness in some people, your doctor may choose to change your medication.

A Quick Review

Some people like to take a "depression nap" when sad or tired. Short naps can be beneficial in some cases—for example, when they're used to gain the energy needed to tackle life's challenges.

But for some people, naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night or turn into an unhealthy coping mechanism. Regularly needing naps to get through the day—particularly if you already sleep long hours at night—can also signal an underlying health issue.

If you become dependent on naps, regularly use "depression naps" to avoid real life, or experience tiredness or sleep problems that interfere with your daily activities, discussing your situation with a healthcare provider would be a good idea.

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