Power Naps

Naps have benefits that make their time investment more than worthwhile. They increase mental performance, improve your emotional state, and reduce the risk of various health conditions. Learn how to take the optimal nap here!


Short version

Take a 20 or 90 minute nap 7-8 hours after waking up for increased alertness, memory, learning, emotional control, and physical health.

Benefits

  • Increased alertness
  • Better motor performance (for tasks that require coordination, e.g., playing the piano)
  • Faster reaction time
  • Better logical reasoning
  • Better symbol recognition
  • Reduced impulsiveness
  • Greater tolerance to frustration
  • Better emotional control
  • Enhanced learning
  • Better memory recall
  • Reduced stress
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, and stroke

Description

Naps take 20 or 90 minutes out of your schedule, but their impact on health and productivity more than justifies that time. All of the above listed benefits of napping have research behind them.

Our mental energy wanes through the morning, hitting a low point 7-8 hours after we wake up. We then hit an afternoon slump (pro tip: try not to schedule any important activities or meetings in the afternoon. Morning appointments with healthcare professionals also tend to lead to better outcomes).

After the afternoon slump, we do recover somewhat later in the day, but we don’t reach the same height of mental alertness as in the morning.

Naps are a solution to that.

An afternoon power nap cleans out your mental cobwebs, and returns you to a higher-performing state. There’s a good reason that some companies like Google are installing nap rooms in their offices – power naps work!

How to do it

  1. Find the right time. For most people, this will be 7-8 hours after the time you wake up. But we all have different internal clocks, so it can help to keep track of your alertness through the day, and find the optimal time for you.
  2. Get the environment set up. Get the room as dark and as quiet as you can. Ear plugs and eye masks can help here. Make sure the room is not too warm, and put your phone on silent.
  3. Set a timer. There are two common nap schedules you can use – 20 minutes, or 90 minutes. This is because we sleep in cycles, where we get into deeper stages of sleep. These cycles last around 90 minutes. If you nap for, say, 60 minutes, you may wake up in the middle of the “deep sleep” part of the cycle. You’ll wake up groggy and tired – this is known as “sleep inertia”. It will take you a while to shake that off, negating the benefits somewhat.

    If you nap for 90 minutes, you’ll wake up at the end of the cycle, and because you’re not jarring yourself out of a deep sleep stage, you’ll wake up feeling refreshed.

    A 20 minute nap works because you don’t reach the deeper stages of sleep in 20 minutes – so you still get the benefits of the nap while waking up refreshed. For most people, 20 minutes will be optimal. It’s less of an imposition into your daily routine, and it’s less likely to interfere with your normal nighttime sleep.

    With that said, everyone is different – so feel free to experiment and use what works for you. If you’re not sure, go with 20 minutes.

    Note: you might want to add an extra 5 minutes to your timer to account for the time you spend actually getting to sleep.
  4. Go to sleep! Try not to think, as that will keep your mind awake. You might try using a sleep hypnosis audio to help you relax.

Schedule

There’s some evidence that people who nap regularly get more benefit than people who nap occasionally – so try to make napping a part of your regular routine, every day if possible, or at least 3 times a week.

You might find it difficult to actually get to sleep at first – this is pretty normal. Just put the time in – lie down and try to nap, and if you don’t, just get up when the timer goes off anyway. Simply lying down to rest with your eyes closed is an excellent break by itself, and eventually your body will get into the habit.

Going caffeine free can help too.

Why it works

There are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to napping and sleep in general. It is thought that brain activity produces various by-products, which start to accumulate and hinder its optimal functioning. During sleep, the brain gets a chance to clear all this out.

As you go about your day, the things you learn aren’t immediately stored into your long term memory banks. The information needs to be processed and integrated with what you already know. That is, the brain uses sleep as a time to create new neurons and synapses, connecting what you have recently learned with existing information.

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