Most mammals—nearly 85%—are polyphasic, which means they sleep multiple times during the day. However, humans are monophasic, which means we sleep just once a day. But due to modern lifestyles and increasing levels of stress, sleep deprivation is a common sight.
A good night’s sleep plays an important role in your overall health and well-being as it keeps the immune system in good shape and heals the body. But if your sleep gets disturbed due to work schedules or any other reason, it’s recommended that you make up the loss through power naps.
A power nap is an afternoon nap lasting anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes can help reduce stress and offset the adverse effects caused by sleep deprivation. Power nap is a term coined by James Mass, a social psychologist at Cornell University. It can recharge and revitalize you fairly quickly.
Different Types of Power Naps
Power naps can be broadly classified into four types:
- Planned napping: As the name suggests, this refers to a nap that you have planned in advance—for instance, when you know you’re going to have a long night in the office, you take a quick power nap during the day to see you through the night. This is also called preemptive napping.
- Emergency napping: When you are extremely sleepy and struggle to keep your eyes open, the nap you need is called emergency napping. This kind of napping is especially useful when you feel sleepy while driving.
- Habitual napping: When you nap at a scheduled time of the day regularly, it is called habitual napping.
- Appetitive napping: When you nap just for the fun of it.
Different People, Different Duration
From an ultra-short power nap lasting as little as six minutes to a more elaborate 90-minute nap, individuals have a range of power naps to choose from.
The six-minute power nap is known to improve declarative memory—a type of long-term memory—which is useful when trying to recall facts and knowledge. According to Sara C Mednick, a sleep expert and author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life, 15 to 20 minutes of power napping can provide you with incredible benefits including alertness and superior motor performance.
A 20-minute power nap is considered ideal to boost the brain and stave off mid-day sleepiness. However, longer naps—ranging between 30 and 60 minutes—are known to benefit memory and decision-making skills.
Napping for 60-90 minutes –also called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep revitalizes the brain connections and enhances creativity.
Benefits of Power Napping
It is believed that a power nap not only helps you feel energetic but it also boosts memory and cognitive skills. No wonder, a number of organizations and universities around the globe are creating napping areas for their employees and students.
Improve Brain Performance
Power naps are especially useful in alleviating sleep deficit and improving verbal memory, perceptual learning, math, reasoning, and response time. Besides, power naps reduce stress, help keep the mood upbeat and fight fatigue. Power naps are also known to help the cause of weight management.
Aware of the benefits of power naps, companies are increasingly creating sleep spaces, where employees can unwind and catch a quick siesta. As for employees, they are becoming more aware of the benefits of napping and increasingly dumping the use of caffeine or energy drinks to keep them going at the workplace.
In fact, a study conducted in 2008 reveals that power naps fare far better than coffee in improving motor skills, perceptual learning, and verbal memory.
The researchers made the participants nap for 60 to 90 minutes during the period of study. The study revealed that
“afternoon naps improved free recall memory compared to the caffeine group after both 20 minutes and seven hour intervals, while resulting in improved learning on physical tasks than caffeine.”
The study goes on to say that caffeine impairs motor sequence learning and declarative verbal memory, that are boosted by power naps.
Good nappers wake up energized and alert and usually, prefer power naps over caffeine to restore their energy. Although caffeine or other energy drinks are known to increase energy levels, they do not help with the cognitive skills.
A study conducted in 1995 by NASA evaluated the benefits of napping on 747 participating pilots. Each pilot in the nappers group napped for 40 minutes during the day, with an average sleep time of 28.5 minutes. Compared with the non-nappers, this group “demonstrated vigilance performance improvements from 16% in median reaction time to 34% in lapses.” Numerous subsequent studies have corroborated the findings of the NASA study that napping for just about the right duration increases alertness and productivity.
That said, not every individual needs a power nap to re-energize. It is important to understand why you need to nap. If you wish to take a nap only because you feel sleepy throughout the day, it may be an indication of stress, insomnia, or some other sleep disorder.
It completely depends on your genetic constitution whether you actually need a power nap or not. If you are not a good napper, you may actually wake up feeling worse because you may fall into a deep sleep during the nap.
Prevent Heart Diseases and Cancer
Yet another study conducted over a period of six years on nearly 24,000 healthy people (not suffering from coronary heart disease, stroke, or cancer) in 2007 in Greece revealed that all the participants who napped at least three times a week had a 37% lower chance of dying from a heart disease. This is because day-time power naps accelerate cardio-vascular recovery with a 45-minute nap helping lower the blood pressure—especially useful for people suffering from stress.
That’s not all, a letter published in the British Journal of Nutrition says power naps can help prevent obesity and weight maintenance.
Children Too Benefit from Napping
It is now well known that napping benefits people of all ages, but it is particularly beneficial for children. Generally, toddlers are biphasic—sleep twice a day. However, as they grow up, they become monophasic.
A study by Rebecca Spencer states that sleeping during the day is particularly effective in children as it helps boost their learning capabilities and enhances memory of the concepts learned earlier in the day. She goes on to say that:
“distributed sleep is critical in early learning; when short-term memory stores are limited, memory consolidation must take place frequently.”
Therefore, children who do not take a nap during the day experience deficient performance that cannot be truly undone by night-time sleep alone. Nap-deprived children—aged between 1 and 3 years—often show poor problem solving skills and are more anxious.
Although power naps are proved to bring numerous health benefits, until recently, it also had social stigmas associated with them.
Day-time nappers were often branded lazy with a lackadaisical attitude, and general sub-standard disposition. It was also believed that napping was the territory of children, elderly, and/or the sick. While numerous researches have been successful in busting these myths, there is still some level of education required about the benefits day-time power naps bring.
People who still feel power napping is a no-no, must know that Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, John F Kennedy, and even Leonardo da Vinci were all nappers—and successful.
Steps to a Great Power Nap
The objective of a power nap is to re-energize and wake up as quickly as possible to maximize your productivity. Therefore, as with any good thing, to get the best out of your power nap, there are certain do’s and don’ts:
- Try to fall asleep as quickly as possible. Shut out any distractions that prevent you from falling asleep quickly.
- Keep your phone on silent mode to avoid disturbance from phone calls or messages.
- It’s a good idea to keep the nap short and quick in order to avoid waking up groggy. Consider setting an alarm for anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes.
- Dim the lights of the room you choose to take your nap in. Light on the eyes makes it difficult to fall asleep quickly. Consider using an eye mask to cut off the light.
- Cut off the surrounding noise for a peaceful nap. Consider wearing noise-reduction headphone or plug in your earphones.
- Usually during a quick snooze, the body temperature falls. Keep a blanket or sheet handy to keep yourself warm.
- If you are napping in your office, consider using the Do Not Disturb sign to let colleagues know you are snoozing.
- Drink a cup of coffee before your power nap. The nap will leave you refreshed and the effect of caffeine will give you the energy to be more productive.
- Get up and get back to whatever you were doing quickly. Consider splashing some water on your face, a brisk walk to let your body know that the nap is over.
- Be consistent with you nap schedules. This means choosing the same time during the day for your power nap—ideal time for a power nap is usually between 1pm and 3pm.
As we may see, numerous studies have firmly established the numerous benefits power naps have to your health. But, it is also important to note that it may not always be possible for people to nap.
For instance, people accustomed to sleeping only on their bed face trouble napping in the office. And then there are people who wake up groggy and disoriented after a nap, which can adversely impact their productivity in the office.
A nap too long can leave you in a condition where you can’t sleep at night. So, it becomes critical to understand your need for a power nap and the ideal duration that re-energizes and revitalizes you. After all, the end objective is to rejuvenate yourself.
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