Perfecting the Power Nap

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Feeling tired? Forget coffee or a redbull.

Try a power nap instead.

You may not realise, but you’ve already had plenty of practice at power napping. Think back to your days at kindergarten and pre-primary– nap time. Whilst you may have been forced to nap against your will, this was your time to re-energise and re-charge. And for most of us, it worked.

There is a plethora of research that illustrates power naps can yield great benefits in our lives. Dr Sara Mednick, author of Take a nap! Change your life, states that a good nap can reset your system, give you a burst of alertness and increase motor performance on tasks such as typing.

In fact, studies have found that a 10-minute daytime nap can improve alertness and performance for about 2.5 hours when you‘re sleep deprived and for 4 hours when you’re not sleep deprived.

Naps also seem to be beneficial for memory consolidation of new information, improving our mood and subjective levels of sleepiness and fatigue.

So why do most of us stop napping after the age of 5? Beats me.

I love my daily power nap. In fact, it’s an essential part of my day.

In my office at university, you’ll find an inflatable mattress and 2 cushions – one to cover my eyes and the other to rest my head on.

On most days at around 1pm or 2pm I set my timer for 15 minutes and take a power nap. Not only does this leave me feeling energised, but I also often get new ideas and insights in relation to projects I’m working on.

So what constitutes the perfect power nap?

Below I have outlined some key features of perfect power naps based on the research literature and my own personal experience as a power nap enthusiast.

Avoid the Groggy Zone (i.e. sleep inertia) – Keep your naps short and sweet

Hayashi and his team at the department of Behavioural Sciences at Hiroshima University found you need to enter sleep stages 1 and 2 to experience the perfect power nap, with all the benefits that come with it (e.g. improved alertness and performance). They also found that you need a minimum of 3 minutes of stage 2 sleep to experience the full restorative power of a nap.

Napping for less than 30 minutes seems to do the trick, they say. Other sleep experts suggest that naps between 14 – 24 minutes is what you should aim for.

Feel like that’s too short? Think again.

Generally speaking, the shorter the power nap, the better.

Have you ever had the experience when you came home from school or work, fell asleep and woke up 1 or 2 hours later as the sun was setting? Most likely you felt groggy and disoriented. You may have even felt slightly panicked as you thought it was the next day.

The reason for experiencing this grogginess is that you entered your deep sleep cycle and failed to complete it. To avoid feeling groggy and worse than you felt before, you need to limit the duration of your power nap to between 14 – 24 minutes, so you don’t go beyond stage 2 sleep. Any more than this and you’ll be entering the groggy zone.

Nap before 5pm, preferably after lunch

In addition, you want to make sure you nap before 5pm to avoid disrupting your sleep at night. The best time to nap seems to be when you experience the post lunch dip (1pm – 3pm).

Block out the light

Where should you nap? A dark room is best, but if that’s not available, put something over your eyes (e.g. an eye mask) to block out the light. This will allow you to fall asleep quickly.

You need to actually sleep

A student once asked me –

“Do you need to actually fall asleep or can just lying down with your eyes closed be enough?”

The key is to enter stage 1 and 2 sleep, so if you’re just resting on the couch but your mind is still active, this won’t cut it.

Nap regularly

Ultimately, the key to perfecting your power naps is to just do it – nap. And do it regularly. If you can make napping a regular part of your routine it will allow you to see what works best for you – what position allows you to fall asleep quickly, what environment allows you to relax the most and what length of time suits you.

At the end of the day, power naps are hugely beneficial but you need to remember, we’re all different. What may work for me, may not work as well for you.

So as an experiment, after you next have lunch, grab yourself a cosy pillow, close the blinds and treat yourself to a power nap. See how much of a difference it makes to your alertness, creativity and performance.

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2 thoughts on “Perfecting the Power Nap

  1. An interesting fact in regards to the “Do I actually need to fall asleep” question… If you awake from Stage 1 sleep, you may not feel as if you have actually been asleep. Someone awoken during Stage 1 will often respond with “I was just resting my eyes”, because you feel like your mind is still active and you don’t feel as if a significant time has passed. So if you’re not 100% sure if you slept… don’t stress, you may have.

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