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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