Do Power Naps Really Work?
It’s 2 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon, and you’re exhausted. Should you go for that third cup of coffee to make it through the workday? Or should you take a quick snooze to reset and recharge?
Some of the world’s top health experts are touting the benefits of a power nap to boost productivity and efficiency in the workspace. But as it turns out, there is a pretty exact science to how and when you should nap to get the most benefits.
We all know the feeling of waking up from a nap that goes too long: that groggy, unsure-what-year-it-is feeling. On the opposite end, a perfectly timed nap can leave you feeling refreshed, energetic, and ready to take on the rest of the day.
Let’s take a look at exactly how these short snoozes can help you, and what you need to do to get the most benefits.
So, what’s so good about power napping?
The main benefits of power napping include increased productivity, mental alertness, problem-solving abilities, and creative thinking. It’s no wonder that some of the more forward-thinking organizations in the world (think Google and NASA) are setting up designated nap spaces in their offices.
Naps can provide you with memory consolidation, which can help both the tired student cramming for an exam and the employee who has an important presentation in a few hours.
Your emotional health can also be positively affected by taking a nap (I think we have all seen this in action when a cranky toddler awakens from a snooze and is magically sweet again!) Studies have shown that people who have taken naps are better able to process and regulate their emotions.
Lastly, a power nap can help to reduce accidents and errors, especially in high-risk occupations like aviation, medicine, or mechanical work. Strategic power naps for pilots and air traffic controllers have been shown to significantly reduce flight errors, which is something I’m sure we can all get behind!
Let’s talk timing and optimization for your power nap
Now that we know the benefits of napping, how do we know how long to hit the hay for? Most experts agree that the sweet spot is in the 20 to 30-minute mark. This window is just enough time to benefit from the rejuvenating effects of sleep, without encroaching on grogginess territory.
When you sleep for about 30 minutes or less, your body will get into non-REM sleep without entering the REM sleep stage. REM, or rapid eye movement, sleep is the deepest sleep stage, which is crucial for cellular and tissue repair and overall health. However, if you enter REM sleep during a nap and don’t finish the cycle (this would look like a 60-minute nap), you’ll likely wake up feeling a little dazed and confused.
An ideal time to take a power nap is typically in the early afternoon, between 1 and 3 P.M., or a couple of hours before an important event, like a test or a presentation.
The ideal sleeping situation for naps are the same as for your nighttime routine: we want the room dark, we want it cool, and we want it quiet. Consider using a sleep mask to block out all the light and a weighted blanket to help get you into your relaxation zone even quicker. If you’re one of the lucky ones who can snooze at work, a white noise app on your phone can help to drown out the workplace chatter and accelerate your time to falling asleep. Don’t forget to put your phone on silent or “do not disturb” to ensure no one interrupts this precious time!
Sounds pretty good! Are there any downsides to power napping?
While there are plenty of benefits to power napping, there could be a few downsides for some people. Those with insomnia may not be good power napping candidates, because it could further interfere with their ability to sleep at night. Even though insomniacs may be excessively tired during the day, a nap could backfire and keep them up at night again. Talk about a vicious cycle!
Some studies have shown that frequent nappers are at increased risk of certain health conditions, like heart disease and high blood pressure. However, these studies show correlation, not causation (translation: the researchers can’t say that naps cause disease, just that they are linked). Also, the majority of these studies have been done with older adults. Most experts agree that young or middle-aged people can benefit from napping without any of the negative consequences.
I’ve heard about a coffee nap - what’s the deal with that?
A coffee nap, or a caffeine nap, entails downing some coffee or caffeine-containing beverage right before you lay down for a nap. While this sounds counterintuitive to sleeping, there is some legitimacy behind it.
Let’s get a little science-y for a minute (stick with me, it’s interesting!): The theory here is based on how caffeine is metabolized in your body. When you consume caffeine, it gets absorbed into your bloodstream and fits into receptors in your brain, which are ordinarily designed to fit another similarly-shaped molecule called adenosine. When caffeine is not around, adenosine binds to its receptors and you get sleepier and sleepier. However, when caffeine competes with adenosine for those coveted spots, your sleepiness is reduced. (If you’ve ever wondered how caffeine works, now you know!)
During a sleep cycle, our bodies naturally clear itself of adenosine. So, the combination of a short nap clearing some out, plus caffeine competing with adenosine means you get a double benefit in terms of alertness when you wake up.
So, if you want to partake in a coffee nap, here’s how to do it. Consume about 100-200 mg of caffeine (the quicker the better: try an iced double shot of espresso), then immediately try to sleep. Set your alarm for 20 minutes and wake up feeling better than ever!
Did you know?
Humans are the only mammals who intentionally delay sleep and plan naps.