Hong Kong’s latest fad – Sleeep (yes, spelled with 3 Es) – has just opened shop in the Sheung Wan district. Sleeep is a state-of-the-art capsule hotel built for solo sleepers that offers a space for people to snooze anytime of the day. This hotel comes with the luxuries of customisable pillows, lighting built to mimic a sunrise – even the temperature and air supply are programmed to ensure that the napper gets the best slumber.

“It’s a breathing space within a suffocating environment. We truly believe that high-quality, sufficient sleep can take us further in both our personal and professional lives,” elaborated Jun Rivers, co-founder of the capsule hotel.

Nap time: Each bed serves only one person. If there is more than one sleeper on the bed, the light would flash red. Photo credit: Lifestyle Asia
Nap time: Each bed serves only one person. If there is more than one sleeper on the bed, the light would flash red. Photo credit: Lifestyle Asia

Capsule hotels, or ‘nap cafes’, are not novel concepts. Popular in South Korea and Japan, office workers, new mothers, or anyone looking for a recharge are frequent visitors of these nap cafes. Although most of the clients are young adults in their 20s, there is a rapid surge in users of all ages in recent years.

However, despite the growing popularity, is napping truly beneficial to our health? What should you take note of when you nap?

Daytime napping may be a warning sign to our health

The practice of napping has been established in the Mediterranean region, where people commonly take naps – or siestas – after the midday meal.

Nevertheless, naps have been linked to poorer night-time sleep as well as to ill health. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2014 followed over 16,000 middle to older aged British adults for 13 years, aiming to investigate the association between daytime napping and mortality risk. Interestingly, researchers discovered that naps during the day that last at least an hour or more was associated with a 32% higher risk of all-cause mortality.

Respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer and stroke were amongst the conditions recorded. Additionally, this association was found to be independent of possible confounders such as socioeconomic status, education age, sex, marital status, body-mass index, levels of physical activity, intake of alcohol and cigarettes, hypnotic, antidepressant and COPD drug use as well as pre-existing health conditions of the participants.

Another study carried out by researchers from the University of Tokyo found that regular, hour-long daytime naps have contributed to a 46% increase of the risk of diabetes. Similar studies conducted in China echoed the findings, where participants over the age of 60 who napped regularly during the day were found to be more likely to develop chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. Napping has also been associated with Parkinson’s disease, depression and chronic pain.

Napping could be beneficial if kept under 30 minutes

It should be highlighted that the aforementioned studies found significant mortality risks in those who napped for an hour or more. Naps of this length can lead to ‘sleep inertia’, where the napper feels groggier and sleepier after waking up. On the other hand, naps less than 30 minutes could, in fact, be beneficial.

Napping has been shown to enhance cognitive functions of memory, creativity, focus and problem solving. They are important stress-busters as well. In addition, some people have been found to need more sleep due to their underlying genetics. “These people (who need naps) probably account for about 40% of the population… for these people, skipping their nap is a huge productivity killer,” remarked Dr Sara Mednick, psychologist at the University of California, who has carried out extensive research on sleeping habits.

Excessive daytime napping could be an indicator of underlying ill health

In conclusion, the verdict on whether naps are good or bad for you depends on many other factors. Like it or not, being able to have a mid-day rest is taking on increasing importance. This culture of accepting naps as part of enhancing productivity is reflected in big companies such as Google, which has “nap pods” for its employees.

At the end of the day, whether or not to take a nap is best assessed on an individual basis. “It is important to ask yourself why you’re taking a nap,” says Dr. Mednick. She adds that daytime sleepiness could be a symptom of a condition rather than the cause. “Everyone’s different. If you feel good, whatever that you do is fine,” she concluded. MIMS

Read more:
Watch out, sleep-deprived Hongkongers – your brain may be 'eating itself'
Insomnia associated with risk of cardio-cerebral vascular events
Coffee, nap or both?
Type 2 diabetes risk linked to marital status and long naps