How to Power Nap — For a Better Mental Boost than Caffeine

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

➤ Balanced information, research-basedOur articles are based on high-quality, widely accepted, research-based information. Sources include government agencies, universities and colleges, scholarly journals, industry and professional associations, and other authoritative resources. Use the numbered citations to link to these sources. When theories and concepts do not have consensus support of the scientific community, we present both sides of the issue.
➤ About our product linksWe provide links to relevant products that may help you achieve your brain health and fitness goals more easily and quickly. If you buy a third-party product via a link on our website, we earn compensation, but at no extra cost to you. See Terms of Use for details.

Smart people and progressive companies know that power naps keep energy and productivity high all day long. Our tips will show you how to power nap better.

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 taking 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 get 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)

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

Napping is an integral part of many cultures including Spain, Mexico, Italy, Greece, the Philippines, Ecuador, and Nigeria. (2)

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. (3)

There’s no guarantee power napping will turn you into a genius, but it should leave you mentally clear and refreshed, so 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: (45)

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

One of the most 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. (6)

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

You might think 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. (7)

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

woman watering flower springing from her head

WHAT CAN A BRAIN SUPPLEMENT DO?

Are you struggling with ...

Fuzzy thinking and foggy focus?

Growing forgetfulness?

Shrinking ability to learn and problem-solve?

Lack of mental energy and drive?

Mind Lab Pro can help your brain perform better.

REVIEW: Why I recommend Mind Lab Pro for better mental performance.

Dr. Pat | Be Brain Fit

Power Naps Raise Performance All Day

Dr. Sara Mednick 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 for 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.

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

It might change your view on naps and caffeine forever!

Video: Give It Up for the Down State by Dr. Sara Mednick
Click the image above to see a video of the TED Talk “Give It Up for the Down State” by Dr. Sara Mednick.

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 (yes, that’s a pun!), power napping is a skill that can be learned and you will get better with practice.

man unable to focus on work

ARE YOU FEELING UNFOCUSED?

Scientifically personalized music can boost focus 4X.

Whatever work or study you do, Focus@Will can help you do it better and faster:

Works with your type of brainwave patterns to reduce distractions.

Dramatically improves your concentration, learning, and retention.

Adapts dynamically to fit your needs and keep you in a "flow state."

REVIEW: Why I recommend Focus@Will to boost focus and productivity.

Dr. Pat | Be Brain Fit

Tips for the Perfect Power Nap

Sleep is comprised of five stages that recur cyclically throughout the night. (8)

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 and keep you up at night. (9)

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 is as almost as good as falling asleep.

GIVE YOUR BRAIN
A BOOST!

Get our 10-Step Brain PowerUp Guide, free.

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 MP3.

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

You can sample it for free at BinauralBeatsMeditation.com.

woman under stress

HOW IS YOUR MOOD?

Are you over-stressed, anxious, or depressed?

In these situations (and many others), talk therapy with a professional can help you cope better with life.

BetterHelp online counseling is the better choice vs in-person therapy:

BetterHelp is more affordable & convenient.

It's discreet, private, secure & COVID-19 safe.

Same professionalism & effectiveness as traditional therapy.

REVIEW: Why I recommend online counseling and BetterHelp.

Dr. Pat | Be Brain Fit

Power Napping at Work

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 improved performance 34% and alertness 100%. (10)

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. (11, 12, 13)

Google and Cisco Systems provide futurist-looking “nap pods” that awaken you gently with vibration and light. (14)

Some companies like Apple and Nike have quiet rooms or meditation rooms where employees can meditate, pray, or nap. (15)

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

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

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

A handful such as Texas A&M University and Carnegie Mellon University, even provide high-tech nap pods. (16)

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. (17)

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

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 an unfortunate, shortsighted policy because sleep deprivation is a national epidemic estimated to cause $150 billion in lost productivity annually. (18)

Workers in China have the right to put their heads on their desks for an hour-long nap after lunch. (19)

(You can tell that to your boss if he won’t let you nap at work! ? )

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 salon that rents out nap space.

For example, Yelo Spa in New York City offers napping among its usual day spa services. (20)

Clients can pay for 20-minute blocks of nap time.

How to 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 shows 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 time.

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