Power Napping: The Ultimate Guide

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Napping is becoming more and more popular as more people start to experience sleep deprivation. Nowadays, we carry on a very busy lifestyle, and sleeping is becoming more valuable.

The stigma against napping is based on the fact that humans are usually known to be monophasic mammalians. We’re pretty unique in that regard as 85% of all mammalian species are naturally polyphasic. With that in mind, it makes sense how the people came to advise against napping. However, as our time schedules become more crowded, we start to experience issues when it comes to sleep as one sleeping session isn’t enough for almost a third of the population. That’s a significant number of people.

Recently, power napping has risen to fame among some people as an excellent technique to overcome the sleep deficiency problem.

Actually, power napping has been shown to provide a boost in productivity and other brain functions, not to mention other health benefits like maintaining optimal blood pressure levels, stress levels, and even weight gain and loss.

The Consequences of Sleep Deprivation

The thing about sleeping is that it’s cumulative. Deficits will follow you around until you make up for them. If you choose to ignore your body’s needs, it will make you pay dearly for it. Many of your regular functions will suffer as a result, these include:

  • Judgment
  • Patience
  • Vigilance
  • Performance
  • Motivation
  • Short-term memory
  • Information processing
  • Reaction time
  • Vision

Until you pay your sleep debts, you’ll also become more moody, aggressive and most importantly more stressed. That’s where power napping comes in to save the day.

What is a Power Nap?

Power naps are short sleep sessions that end before the body enters deep sleep or the NREM cycle, in order to prevent the occurrence of sleep inertia.

To put it simply, power naps are meant to maximize the benefits of sleep in the shortest amount of time possible.

Different Types of Power Naps

There are several types of naps, but they should all serve the same purpose which is to regain efficiency, thus the name power naps. Every kind of nap improves some aspects more than others.

Usually, a power nap is a 10 to 30-minute sleep session that occurs between 1:00 and 4:00 PM. If you nap for more than 30 minutes, you risk experiencing sleep inertia which is that unpleasant feeling of being tired, disoriented, and grumpy, which takes some time to go away. If you choose to nap after 4:00 PM, you run the risk of disrupting your sleep schedule, resulting in even more problems.

However, none of these rules are set in stone, and there’s plenty of research that points toward this. For instance, some sleep scientists like Sara Mednick, a sleep researcher from the University of California Riverside, who wrote “Take a Nap! Change your Life”, states that naps at different durations can give different results and benefits. For one, quick 10 to 20-minute-naps are great for boosting alertness while negating the effect of sleep inertia, which might outstay its welcome in the case of 30+ minute naps.

If you’re short on time and need an even quicker nap, you can even take six-minute naps which have been shown to dramatically improve declarative memory, which is our ability to recall knowledge and facts.

If quick naps are not your kind of thing, Mednick has got you covered as she makes a case for longer 60-minute naps boosting cognitive memory processing. In order to explain how this came to be, let us take a look at how sleep works.

How Does Sleep Work?

During sleep, the brain moves through a pattern lasting for about 90 to 120 minutes. There are two patterns between which the brain cycles, there’s NREM (short for non-rapid eye movement) cycles and REM (short for rapid eye movement) which is the cycle that’s associated with dreaming. During NREM cycles, the body enters a state of deep slumber which is where our body takes the opportunity to memorize and organize information which is where the 60-minute naps come into play. They may help us in this regard.

There are four main types of naps one should keep in mind:

Habitual Napping

This refers to having a set time during which one takes a nap

Appetitive Napping

This relates to having naps for the sake of it

Planned Napping

This can also be called preemptive napping. Taking a preemptive nap usually means that you anticipate when you’re going to feel sleepy and rest beforehand if you feel like you have to stay up late at night

Emergency Napping

As the name implies, this is what you’d call a last resort when you’re exhausted and can’t even perform at minimum levels. If you start to get sleep when you’re driving or using complicated and dangerous machinery, then the best course of action would be to take an emergency nap.

The Benefits of Power Napping

Direct Cognitive Advantages of Power Napping

As we mentioned beforehand, napping is an effective way of boosting one’s performance, be it by increasing alertness, memory, learning, and performance.

A study[1] conducted by NASA in 1995 looked at the benefits of napping on 747 pilots. Each subject was allowed to nap for 40 minutes during the day. The average of nap times was 25.8 minutes. Those who napped were more vigilant and better performing than those who didn’t take naps. The improvements in median reaction times ranged from 16% to 34%.

Knowing this, you might be tempted to try napping while on the job. That’s actually not a bad idea. If you plan your naps accordingly, you can actually boost your performance. A study done on emergency department physicians, nurses and first-year medical students has shown an improvement in alertness and performance when planning their naps on the job.

Luckily, there are more and more companies that are starting to recognize the benefit of power napping. These companies offer sleep spaces and provide a supportive environment with the right setup for sleeping on the job. For instance, Google is starting to implement sleeping pods that are designed by Christopher Lindholst from MetroNaps. Many other firms and companies are beginning to follow this pattern.

Power Napping vs. Caffeine

Power naps can actually be even more effective than drinking caffeine. A study[2] in 2008 has shown that naps are better than caffeine when it comes to improving motor skills, perceptual learning, and verbal memory. In the study, afternoon naps were shown to enhance free recall memory when compared to the caffeine group after both 20 minutes and seven-hour intervals.

Learning on physical tasks was also more apparent for those who took naps instead of caffeine. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the participants took naps that lasted between 90 minutes and 60 minutes, in this case, caffeine might be a more time-efficient solution, but the study also showed that caffeine was shown to impair motor sequence learning and declarative verbal memory.

Other Health Benefits of Power Napping

One of the most significant benefits of naps that we haven’t yet mentioned is how great naps can be at reducing stress. That alone should be enough reason for people to consider taking naps when feeling stressed or tired.

Napping can also help us manage blood pressure. Daytime sleep was shown to accelerate cardiovascular recovery after experiencing psychological stress. Research has also shown that 45 naps lower blood pressure.

Another comprehensive 2007 study[3] drew a similar conclusion. The study consisted of following 24,000 people in Greece, none of whom had coronary heart disease, cancer or had suffered strokes for 6 years. Those who napped at least 3 times a week for an average of 30 minutes a day were 37% less likely to die from heart-related disease.  This was particularly noticed with men more than women as there were too few women who died to draw any reliable conclusion.

Power Napping Like a Pro

Whether you’re looking for a quick pick-me-up method or just looking to regain your energy to prepare for a tough week, here’s how to make the most out of your napping sessions.

Keep Your Power Napping Sessions Short and Sweet

By short and sweet, we mean 15-20 minutes naps. Nap for longer, and you’ll risk experiencing sleep inertia that could leave you groggy for upwards of an hour. Keeping your rest sessions short will prevent your body from falling into a deep sleep which, if interrupted, can leave you feeling even more tired than before you took the nap.

If you’re one to take long naps, aim for 90-minute sleep sessions as they’ll allow you to fully get through a full sleep cycle which will facilitate the process of getting up afterward.

Nap Between 12 AM and 3 PM

The time between lunch and 3 PM is usually the time where we crash the hardest. It’s also the best time to nap as it can be an extremely effective way of utilizing downtime to regain one’s energy.

Choose the Optimal Sleep Environment

Choosing a good sleeping environment when power napping is just as important as the length of your sleep sessions. Sleep is about quantity AND quality, drop either, and you’ll be shooting yourself in the leg.

Usually, the best place to fall asleep is an isolated one. If you have a private office, then you can take advantage of that private space to take a nap. Be sure to turn off any electronic devices and/or alarms as they can disrupt your naps and prevent you from getting the most out of your naps.

Of course, not everyone can take a nap at work, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying to figure out creative ways to sneak in a quick nap if you really need one. The most famous technique is to go to the restroom and take a 15-minute nap. You’ll be back before anyone notices. You can also pretend to go to your car to pick something up and instead take a quick nap there.

Just make sure your doors and locked while you sleep. One other way that’s usually reserved for the daredevils is to simply put your head down your desk and let the soft touch of sleep take you away for a few moments.  However, we do not take any responsibility if your boss catches you (but you can use this article to convince him nonetheless).

Where Should You Take Your Power Naps?

Here are a couple of quiet places in which you can sleep

  • Libraries and bookstores are an obvious pick as the norm there is for people to be quiet, so the chances of getting woken by loud noises are quite slim. As a bonus, most libraries sell coffee.
  • Gym lounges can be a great place to take a nap. They are usually comfortable and quiet. If you didn’t already know, taking a short nap just before your daily workout can be helpful by boosting your performance.
  • Conference rooms are perfect for napping, as long as you make sure to reserve them in order to prevent any disruptions.
  • You can also take naps in your car. Just have it parked in a safe place, lock the doors, put on some calm music, and let yourself drift to sleep. You can nap in your car just before heading out on a long road in order to regain your energy.

If you have control of your environment, you should try to make it as dark as possible to facilitate falling asleep. Having a repetitive, smooth sound that plays in the background can also help a lot. You can also use earplugs to get the same effect.

Drink Coffee Just Before You Take a Nap

While this may sound counter-intuitive, it’s actually quite an efficient method of optimizing your naps. However, this will only work for naps that are at most 20 minutes long. The reason behind all of this is that the boost that coffee offers takes 20 minutes to kick in. The logic behind these caffeine-powered naps is usually to wake up just as the caffeine boost starts to kick in for maximum energy.

Power Napping and Insomnia

If you’re an insomniac, you should skip napping as it has been shown to worsen insomnia. No one with insomnia should take power naps as it will disrupt their sleep at night. If you find yourself experiencing difficulties when trying to fall asleep at night, see if you’ve been napping during the day.

Keep in mind that quality of sleep is just as important as its quantity, if not even more important. If you’re not getting good sleep at night even though you sleep for 8+ hours, you probably won’t be getting it when you nap.

This also applies for those who suffer from sleep apnea, be it untreated or undiagnosed. The reason behind this is that those who suffer from sleep apnea tend to have their sleep as well as their naps constantly interrupted which negates all the benefits of power naps altogether. So it’s best to avoid napping if you suffer from either sleep apnea or insomnia.


[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10607214

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2603066/

[3] https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2007/02/sleeping-your-way-to-heart-health/

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The Medical Extern

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