The Power Nap: A Better Mental Boost Than Caffeine

Edited and medically reviewed by Patrick Alban, DC | Written by Deane Alban

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Smart people and progressive companies know that power naps keep energy and productivity high all day long. Here’s how to power nap right.

Power naps can significantly boost your energy, mood, productivity, and creativity.

If you often feel lethargic during the day, rely on caffeine to maintain your focus, or sleep poorly at night, you are an excellent candidate for power naps.

But there are some tricks to getting the most from your nap.

Take a look at how to power nap the right way.

What Is a Power Nap?

A power nap is defined as a short period of rest or sleep that does not include the stages of deep sleep.

Its purpose is to achieve maximum rejuvenation in the minimum amount of time.

While everyone is different, the optimal length of a power nap is usually around 20 minutes.

The term was coined by psychologist James B. Maas, PhD, author of Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance.

According to Dr. Maas, a ten to twenty-minute power nap can counter the natural mid-day circadian dip in alertness that most people experience around eight hours after waking up in the morning.

The power nap concept was conceived as an easy, healthy way to boost mood, alertness, energy, and productivity — without the use of stimulants like caffeine.

Benefits of Power Naps

It’s quite possible that human beings are meant to nap.

Eighty-five percent of all mammal species sleep for short periods throughout the day. (1)

And there’s evidence that in pre-industrial times, humans had segmented sleeping patterns. (2)

We naturally nap as babies and toddlers and gravitate back to naps as we grow older.

" The time spent napping is one of the best returns on investment of your time.

Napping is an integral part of many cultures including those in Spain, Italy, Japan, Greece, Costa Rica, and some Scandinavian countries. (3, 4)

Some of the most productive and brilliant people in history took naps, including Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, Johannes Brahms, Albert Einstein, and Leonardo da Vinci. 

There’s no promise that power napping will make you brilliant, but it should leave you mentally clear and refreshed so that you can keep your mood, energy, focus, and productivity levels high all day long.

Here are some of the many proven benefits of regular power naps: (5)

  • more energy and stamina
  • lower stress due to decreased cortisol levels
  • improved mood due to an increase in serotonin levels
  • less risk of depression
  • improved memory and learning
  • greater alertness and productivity
  • better accuracy
  • more creativity
  • increased patience
  • enhanced decision-making skills
  • better sex life
  • reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure
  • lower risk of diabetes and obesity
  • reduced dependence on alcohol and drugs including caffeine
  • better motor skills and coordination
  • lower risk of accidents
  • fewer health problems due to chronic insomnia

One of the amazing benefits of taking a power nap is that it doesn’t just make you more productive for a short time, it actually makes you more productive for the rest of the day. 

This makes the time spent napping one of the best returns on investment of your time.

You might think that you’re too busy to nap, but presidents John F. Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Lyndon B. Johnson took naps while they were in office. 

If they found time to nap, I bet you can too.

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Power Naps Raise Performance All Day

Sara Mednick, PhD, is a leading authority on napping and the author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life.

While studying napping, one of her biggest revelations was how well a mid-day power nap improved performance the rest of the day.

She first established baseline levels of performance by testing well-rested people on their creative abilities and performance on simple tasks (like memory or typing) four times throughout the day.

Mednick found that performance usually peaked during the morning and gradually deteriorated as the day wore on.

No surprise there.

After trying various ways to keep performance at the peak level experienced during the morning, she found napping to be the only way that worked reliably.

A power nap didn’t just raise baseline performance and creativity levels temporarily, it unexpectedly kept them high all afternoon and into the evening.

She illustrated her findings in the graph below.

nap performance graph
A mid-day power nap improves performance later in the day. (Courtesy of Dr. Sara Mednick’s TED Talk Give it Up for the Down State)

How Power Naps Compare to Caffeine

If you are among the millions of people who regularly consume caffeine, you’ll find the next phase of Dr. Mednick’s research really interesting.

After lunch, test subjects either took a nap or ingested a dose of caffeine equivalent to a cup of coffee.

A third group was given a placebo instead of caffeine.

When tested on memory and motor tasks, the power nappers experienced a boost in post-nap performance that stayed high the rest of the day.

The placebo group’s performance declined during the day, as expected.

But the caffeine group’s performance was a big surprise.

This group performed significantly worse than both the nap and placebo groups!

If you rely on caffeine in coffee, soda, or energy drinks to push through your afternoon, you may find that it keeps you alert but it most likely does not boost your performance.

In fact, according to Dr. Mednick’s research, caffeine is almost certainly sabotaging your mental performance.

Watch the Video

If you still need convincing or simply want to learn more about the effects of naps on cognitive performance, check out Dr. Mednick’s short TED Talk Give it Up for the Down State on YouTube.

It might change your view on naps and caffeine forever!

How to Take Your First Power Nap

By now, I hope you’re motivated to give power napping a try.

How to Take a Power Nap

Find a comfortable, quiet spot. 

With practice, you’ll learn to nap under less than ideal circumstances.

Set an alarm for 20 minutes. 

Any longer and you risk waking up groggy rather than refreshed.

You may find listening to music, meditation, or brainwave entrainment audios designed for power napping helpful, but this is optional.

Don’t be frustrated if your first few naps don’t go very well.

It’s not unusual to initially fail to fall asleep or worry that you won’t wake up in time.

But “rest assured,” power napping is a skill that can be learned and you will get better with practice.

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Tips for the Perfect Power Nap

Sleep is comprised of five stages that recur cyclically throughout the night. (6)

An ideal power nap should consist mainly of Stage 1, with some Stage 2, sleep.

Longer naps allow you to enter deeper sleep, which can leave you feeling groggy when you awaken. 

Extended naps can also make it harder for you to sleep well at night. 

Sleep researcher Dr. Sara Mednick offers these simple guidelines to get the most out of your power nap:

  • Keep your nap short, ideally 20 to 30 minutes. The next “sweet spot” is a 90-minute nap which allows you to go through one complete REM (rapid eye movement) cycle.
  • The best time for napping is between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. or roughly seven to eight hours after you wake up.
  • Keep in mind that napping later or longer can make it harder to fall asleep at night.
  • If you don’t actually fall asleep when you nap, that’s OK. Getting rest can be almost as good as falling asleep.

Power Nap Apps and Downloads

There are apps that can help you fall asleep fast and time your power nap.

Pzizz

Pzizz is a popular sleep app for both iPhone and Android that has a power nap module.

Pzizz boasts a patented algorithm that generates a familiar, yet slightly new, soundtrack every time you listen to it to keep you from getting tired of it.

Sleep Cycle Power Nap

If you’ve got an iPhone, another app to consider is the Sleep Cycle Power Nap.

It uses your phone’s built-in accelerometer to analyze your movements so that it wakes you before you fall into a deep sleep.

Power Nap

Another option is the Power Nap binaural beats meditation audio file.

It guides you into the brainwave stage of sleep, then gently brings you to the alpha brainwave state, the state of relaxed wakefulness, so that you wake up feeling alert and rejuvenated.

You can sample it for free at Binaural Beats Meditation.

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Power Napping at Work and School

Power napping at work can be challenging depending on your employer’s policies and attitudes towards napping.

A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap significantly improved performance and alertness. (7)

Today, in part because of that study, pilots on international flights take turns enjoying NASA naps to refresh and stay alert.

Some corporations are following NASA’s lead and not only allow, but encourage, power naps.

Companies as diverse as Rodale Press, Ben & Jerry’s, Zappos, Nike, British Airways, Viacom, New York Times, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Uber have nap rooms for their employees. 

Some companies like Nike and Thrive Global have quiet rooms or meditation rooms where employees can meditate, pray, or nap. (8)

Other employers provide outdoor garden space where employees can think quietly, meditate, or nap.

Google, Huffington Post, Facebook, and Cisco Systems go one step further by providing futuristic-looking “nap pods” that awaken you gently with vibration and light. (9)

These forward-thinking companies understand that providing napping facilities is a win-win move that makes for a happier, healthier, more productive workforce.

Universities That Encourage Naps

A few universities have also seen the light and make it easy for their students to nap.

A handful of schools such as Texas A&M University, Washington State University, and Carnegie Mellon University even provide high-tech nap pods. (10)

According to American Academy of Sleep Medicine research, tired students are poor students.

They are much more likely to get poor grades and drop courses. (11)

Lack of sleep affects students’ grade point average as much as binge drinking and marijuana use!

Hypnosis helps change negative behaviors quickly.

How to Power Nap When Napping Is Not Allowed

Clearly not all workplaces encourage napping and, in some places, sleeping on the job can get you fired.

This is a shortsighted policy because sleep deprivation is a national epidemic estimated to cost $150 billion in lost productivity annually. (12)

If your place of employment doesn’t allow napping, you may have to get creative.

Besides the obvious solution of napping at your desk on your lunch break, power nappers have been known to grab a few winks in their car, the office lunchroom, conference room, or bathroom, in the library, on a park bench, at a coffee shop, or at their gym.

If you work in a large city, you may be able to find a nearby spa or salon that rents out nap space by 20-minute blocks of time.

The Power Nap: Take the Next Step

There’s a natural tendency for mental performance to decline during the day and continue to decline through the evening.

The evidence is clear that taking a power nap can keep your mood, creativity, and productivity high all day long.

And it works even better than caffeine.

Napping for twenty minutes and waking before you’ve entered the deep stages of sleep will assure that you wake up refreshed.

Napping provides a long list of mental and physical health benefits.

Some of the smartest people and companies have found napping to be a wise investment of their time.

READ NEXT: Mental Effects of Chronic Insomnia (+ how to stop it)