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.
What you’ll learn about power naps in this article:
- The mental and physical benefits of power napping
- Evidence that power naps improve mental performance all day long, even better than caffeine
- How to power nap properly so you wake up feeling recharged, not groggy
- The best apps to help you power nap
- How to get the most out of your power nap
- Tips for power napping discreetly at work
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.
Let’s 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. (1)
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 Dr. James B. Maas, 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 midday circadian dip in alertness that most people experience around eight hours after waking up in the morning. (2)
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. (3)
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. (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. (5)
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.
- 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. (11)
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 in office. (12)
If they found time to power nap, I bet you can too!
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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.
In her study of napping, one of her biggest revelations was how well a midday 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.
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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.
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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.
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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!
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How to Take Your First Power Nap
By now I hope you’re motivated to give power napping a try.
Here are the simple steps for taking a power nap:
1. Find a comfortable, quiet spot. With practice, you’ll learn to nap under less than ideal circumstances.
2. Set an alarm for 20 minutes. Any longer and you risk waking up groggy rather than refreshed.
3. 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. (13)
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. (14)
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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. In this case, getting rest is as 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 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.
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.
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.
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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%. (15)
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.
Some companies like Apple and Prentice Hall Publishing have quiet rooms or meditation rooms where employees can meditate, pray, or nap. (22)
Other employers provide outdoor garden space where employees can think quietly, meditate, or nap.
These forward-thinking companies realize that providing napping facilities is a win-win move that makes for a happier, healthier, more productive workforce.
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Some universities have also seen the light and make it easy for their students to nap.
University of Michigan provides nap stations in their library which is open 24/7. (23)
Research confirms that tired students make poor students who are much more likely to get poor grades and drop courses. (24)
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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. (25)
Somewhat surprisingly, workers in China have the right to put their heads on their desks for an hour-long nap after lunch. (26)
(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.
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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.
The idea of nap salons originated in sleep-deprived Japan. (27)
For example, Yelo Spa in New York City offers napping among its usual day spa services. (28)
Clients can pay for 20-minute blocks of nap time.
How to Power Nap: The Bottom Line
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.