Sure, it feels good while you’re indulging in a power nap, but are there deeper benefits to your brief snoozefest? Is it OK to indulge every day? How long should a power nap last? Read on to find out.
What is a power nap?
A power nap is a short nap taken in the middle of the day. Power naps yield the most benefit when they last between 10 and 30 minutes and occur between 1:00 pm and 4:00 pm. But these are not hard and fast rules. Sara Mednick, psychologist from University of California – Riverside, and author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life, recommends power naps lasting between 10 and 20 minutes to boost alertness and concentration, to elevate your mood, and to improve your motor skills.
But if sleeping in the middle of the day is so good for you, wouldn’t a longer nap be better for you? Not so fast, sleepy head. It’s true that longer naps (60 – 90 minutes) have been shown to improve memory and increase creativity. But naps longer than 30 – 40 minutes often result in sleep inertia – that groggy, disoriented feeling you have upon waking that can derail your day. Most sleep experts recommend taking shorter naps that end before you enter the deep sleep stages, which are more difficult to rouse from. Even a six-minute nap, dubbed an “ultra-short sleep episode” by sleep specialists, has been shown to improve memory.
Power naps yield the most benefit when they last between 10 and 30 minutes and occur between 1:00 pm and 4:00 pm.
The benefits of power napping
While a daily nap may feel like a sweet indulgence, the health benefits of power napping go well beyond the luxurious feeling of drifting off and escaping a hectic day. The truth is that power naps can be very good for you…and not just because they can stave off that afternoon slump. Studies show that you can reap a wide range of immediate and long-term benefits from power napping.
The short-term benefits of power napping include:
- Improved memory
- Sharpened cognitive skills
- Increased creativity
- Elevated energy levels
- Improved mathematical and logical reasoning
- Increased reaction time
- Improve motor skills
Long-term, power napping regularly can:
- Reduce stress
- Decrease the risk of heart disease
- Aid in weight management
Studies show that you can reap a wide range of immediate and long-term benefits from power napping.
With so many benefits to be had from an afternoon snooze, how did napping come to be associated with laziness and a lack of ambition? Historians, like Roger Ekirch of Virginia Tech and Craig Koslofsky of the University of Illinois – Urbana, believe napping or bi-modal sleeping fell out of favor for most people sometime in the 17th century. That’s when the availability of artificial lighting, such as candles, and later, gas street lights and electric lighting made it easier and even fashionable to socialize late into the night.
The rise of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century cemented the demise of the nap. As productivity became a prized attribute, people prioritized efficiency, so sleeping during the day was not only impractical but also suggestive of a lack of ambition and industry.
Furthermore, up until the 1920s or so, scientists believed the brain and body were basically inactive during times of sleep. In the absence of technology that revealed the truth about the physical and mental processes that occur during sleep, the bad reputation of napping stuck. All that is changing now (and not a moment too soon!).
Types of power naps
Power naps come in three different varieties.
- Planned naps. You might take a planned nap even before you get sleepy to help prepare you for a long night ahead. As a result, they are also known as “preparatory naps.”
- Emergency naps. We can all relate to the sudden feeling of fatigue that stops you in your tracks. Napping at these times can protect you from accidents when driving or handling heavy equipment and careless mistakes in other types of tasks.
- Habitual napping. As the name suggests, these regular naps occur around the same time every day. Young children usually take habitual naps that they (and their parents) need and anticipate.
With great power, comes great power naps
Because studies suggest that people are naturally inclined toward two distinct sleep phases, habitual napping could be a healthier way for people to sleep if their schedules allow. Unfortunately, most people don’t have the flexibility to include a daily nap in their schedules.
But if you are a world leader, eccentric artist, or freelance worker, you probably don’t have to follow societal scheduling norms. Take a look at this list of famous power nappers:
Leonardo Da Vinci
John F. Kenney
George W. Bush
Who knows – maybe their achievements and creative genius are directly related to their afternoon siestas.
Because studies suggest that people are naturally inclined toward two distinct sleep phases, habitual napping could be a healthier way for people to sleep if their schedules allow.
Power nap sleep stations
The good news is that the lessons of these cultural icons are not lost on corporate America. Some progressive organizations are beginning to recognize the many benefits of power napping by installing sleep pods in their offices. Companies like the ones listed below have all embraced the wisdom of daytime napping.
- Ben & Jerry’s
They’re not making these accommodations out of the kindness of their hearts. (Although it’s possible they are nice people.) Power napping is profitable because workers return to work refreshed, more alert, more creative, more productive. They also report more job satisfaction which raises morale, leading to even more productivity and a more stable workforce – a win-win for everyone.
How to have the best power nap
Want to give it a try? If you don’t have a sleeping pod available, Dr. Mednick recommends a few simple steps to help you relax quickly and wake feeling refreshed.
6 Steps to the best power nap:
- Give yourself permission to nap. You’re not being lazy.
- Nap in the late morning or early afternoon to avoid disrupting your sleep at night.
- Find a quiet place where noise and people’s movements won’t disturb you.
- Use a blanket since your body temperature drops when you sleep.
- Darken your sleep space or wear an eyeshade.
- Set an alarm to wake you after 20 minutes.
Need even more help escaping from your hectic day? Try this soothing brainwave music to transport you to the land of dreams.
Are you a habitual or occasional power napper? Share your experiences with power napping in the comments section below. We’d love to hear your story!