Power Naps: The Definitive Guide (Optimal Time, Benefits)
Daytime napping has long been a dividing issue. Some swear by it, claiming it gives them the energy they need to go through the second half of their day. Others look down on daytime nappers, thinking they’re rude, lazy, or perhaps even hungover.
But as we are all becoming more mindful about our daily habits, people’s views on daytime napping are starting to change. It is still nowhere near as revered as green tea or meditation, but it’s certainly getting there. And when it comes to midday downtime rituals, power napping is the go-to option for numerous people with busy professional and personal lives.
In this article, we’ll discuss the many health and brain benefits of daytime napping. We’ll also look at the science behind power napping and provide a practical guide on how to take a refreshing power nap.
Table of Contents
Why Daytime Napping Is Good for You
The benefits of daytime napping are far from anecdotal. Over the years, numerous scientific studies have found that taking a quick nap in the middle of the day can have a positive effect on your memory, as well as your overall health.
Here are the six main reasons why daytime napping is good for you, according to science.
1. Napping Actually Helps You Stay Awake
As weird as it may sound, taking an early afternoon nap may help you chase away sleepiness after you wake up. But to achieve this effect, you may also need to have a cup of coffee or some other caffeinated drink.
That’s according to a 1994 study that looked into ways to enable a group of surgeons to stay awake for longer periods of time. The results showed that regular short naps helped them keep going for 24 hours on end, but only in combination with caffeine. They noted that mixing the two was the key, as neither method seemed to work as well individually.
One year later, a study published in the journal Sleep compared the effects of coffee and napping on daytime sleepiness. The authors found that napping offered more durable and subtle results than everyone’s favorite caffeinated drink. According to the results, the effects of coffee were largely gone after about six hours, whereas the effects of napping were visible for a bit longer.
2. It Improves Your Associative Memory
The term associative memory denotes your ability to make mental connections between two or more seemingly random things. When you can’t put a name to a face, it’s a clear sign that your associative memory needs a boost.
A 2010 study found that taking a 90-minute nap in the afternoon may help you achieve that.
The authors took in a group of people and gave them a set of faces and corresponding names to memorize. The participants took a closer look at the photos for an hour around noon and then half of them went on to take a nap.
At 4:30 pm that day, the authors gathered the participants to check how well they had memorized the combinations. Those participants who took 90 minutes of downtime outperformed those who stayed awake during the afternoon. This comes as no surprise because, while you’re sleeping, your brain uses the free time to store memories for easier recollection later on.
3. Learning Is Easier After You Take a Nap
A study conducted in 2006 observed two groups of nappers – those that took naps every day and those who only did it occasionally. This time, the authors wanted to see if taking a nap had any effect on their ability to learn new things.
Both groups took an afternoon nap and then were given reading materials to study from.
According to the results, the regular nappers were much better at both memorizing and retaining new bits of information.
The authors suggested that regular naps have made them better in motor learning, which allowed them to acquire new knowledge and skills more efficiently.
And that’s not all. An earlier study found that napping improves people’s visual learning skills, too. In fact, the authors noted that the effects of a 90-minute nap were on par with those of a full night’s sleep.
4. It Can Make You More Alert During the Day
Most people take afternoon naps to increase alertness and regain their ability to focus on tasks at hand. This is a well-known benefit of napping, backed up by a 2010 review of several major studies on the effects of daytime sleep sessions.
But if you’ve tried power napping with no success, you might think that these are all just empty claims with no foundation in reality. If that’s what you think, you’re wrong. Actually, chances are you haven’t been doing it the right way.
A 2006 study found that the duration of your afternoon nap also plays an important role in the process.
Its authors suggest that 10-minute naps are the best at improving daytime alertness. 30-minute naps are also very beneficial, but there’s an impaired period of transition from sleep to wakefulness before you’re ready to go.
5. Napping Can Improve Your Physical Performance
You may already know that getting a good night’s sleep can do a lot for your physical performance and endurance. According to a 2007 study, the same is also true of daytime napping.
The authors of the study took in ten young men in good physical shape and artificially made them sleep deprived by allowing them sleep for 4 hours the night. After the men had lunch, they were split into a group that took a 30-minute nap and a control group that sat around doing nothing. Shortly after the 30 minutes, the men performed a series of sprints and other tests.
It turned out that the men who napped ran considerably faster than the control group of men who didn’t nap. As such, the authors noted that short daytime naps could be very beneficial to all professional athletes. Furthermore, they could be particularly good for those who don’t get enough sleep at night due to their intense training routine.
6. It Can Also Give Your Immune System a Boost
To ensure your body stays protected against viruses and bacteria, your immune system needs to be active all the time. If you want to give your immune system a boost, you need a combination of proper nutrition, regular physical activity, and healthy sleeping habits. And according to a 2015 study, you might also want to add nap time to your daily schedule.
The team of researchers behind the study gathered a small group of healthy young men and cut their sleep down to just two hours for one night only. The next day, the men returned for the researchers to collect their blood and urine samples. As expected, their levels of stress hormones and inflammatory substances were much higher than normal.
The next day, the researchers divided the men into two smaller groups. One group had two daytime naps of 30 minutes each, while the other group stayed awake throughout the day. When the researchers took their samples again, they noticed that the nappers’ hormone levels had returned to normal, whereas the other group’s results were the same as the day before.
These results show that taking an afternoon nap could be a good way to restore balance to your immune system, especially after you’ve had a sleepless night.
Famous Daytime Nappers
Throughout history, many successful men have been outspoken about their afternoon nap rituals. Let’s take a look at five famous daytime nappers and their sleep habits.
You can’t spell Napoleon without “nap,” so it’s no surprise that the famous French emperor was keen on catching his daytime zzzs. Napoleon rarely slept at night during his battles because he wanted to be ready in case his opponents made a move. Still, he would take frequent naps during the day and would usually fall asleep in a matter of seconds.
John F. Kennedy
Almost all US presidents are known to have peculiar sleep habits, but when it comes to daytime nappers, no one could match JFK. Every day after lunch Kennedy would retire to his bedroom, draw the curtains, and take one or two hours of nap time. He would also order the staff to not interrupt him or put any phone calls through to him during these hours.
Leonardo da Vinci
The famous Renaissance artist was one of the people who thought of sleep as a waste of time. He would usually get no more than two hours of sleep within 24 hours, but never at once. Instead, he would take a 15-minute nap every four hours, which made him one of the pioneers of power napping.
Dali’s “slumber with a key” is in a league of its own.
To take a break from work, he would sit in a chair with his back upright and hold a key in his hand. He would then close his eyes and attempt to relax. As soon as he zoned out, he would drop the key and the resulting clang would serve as a wake-up signal.
John D. Rockefeller
The first oil tycoon whose name is synonymous with extreme wealth had a very strict ritual that he followed religiously. He took two naps every day – one after lunch and another one right after dinner. As he once explained, it was his way to preserve energy, relieve the tension of his work life, and optimize his mental and physical health.
Different Types of Naps
According to the National Sleep Foundation, there are three main types of naps:
- Preparatory naps are the naps you take when you’re not really feeling tired. Also known as planned naps, people use them to get some extra sleep when they know they’ll be staying up late. This type of nap may be particularly beneficial for people who work the late shift and need to stay alert throughout the night.
- Emergency naps are those you take when you need a short break from the task you’re currently working on. These naps could help improve your concentration and chase the sleepiness and drowsiness away. Moreover, you can also take an emergency nap to give your body a quick energy boost after a sleepless night.
- Habitual naps are the naps you take each day at the same time. They are particularly common among young children who tend to sleep for an hour or so after school. Similarly, adults who work the early shift might also benefit from adding a regular afternoon nap to their schedule.
Even though it’s not included in this list, it is worth mentioning that some people also take appetitive naps. They don’t take them because they’re tired or need to catch up on sleep, but rather for the sheer fun of it. These people tend to fall asleep easier, which means that they can tune out anytime they want.
How Long Should Your Nap Be?
No matter what time of day you decide to sleep, you should always time your sessions so that you wake up refreshed and energized. Based on all the research we’ve written above, an afternoon nap should last for no more than 90 minutes. As a rule, this should be enough for a full 90-minute sleep cycle to play out. You can choose your napping style below and then calculate how long your nap should be.
Depending on how much time you spend dozing off, there are five common napping styles:
- Nano napping lasts between 10 and 20 seconds
- Micro napping is usually between two and five minutes long
- Mini napping goes on for up to 20 minutes
- Power napping lasts between 20 and 30 minutes
- The lazy man’s nap usually lasts between 50 and 90 minutes
Apart from nano napping, which has no scientifically proven benefits, all other napping styles could help you fight daytime sleepiness and increase your alertness. In the final section of this article, we’ll take a closer look at the benefits and rules of power napping. Make sure to set a nap timer to ensure you don’t sleep too long.
The Benefits of Power Napping
Power napping packs all the main benefits of the afternoon zzzs in a 30-minute session that even the busiest of people can make time for.
The main reason why power napping shouldn’t last longer than half an hour is to avoid sleep inertia. This term refers to that drowsy, hangover-like feeling you get after you’ve just woken up. As you probably know, depending on how well you’ve slept it can sometimes take a while to fully wake up and feel ready to start your day.
Most benefits of daytime napping we’ve discussed above apply to power napping, too.
In addition to that, a 2007 study conducted in Greece found that this napping style could also help prevent a fatal outcome of coronary diseases.
The authors of the study tracked more than 23,000 adults with no history of heart-related diseases or cancers over a period of almost six and a half years. They discovered that people who took 30-minute afternoon naps three or more times a week were less likely to die from heart disease later in life. This is yet another proof that power napping can do a world of good for every aspect of your health.
How to Take a Power Nap
Now that you know why power napping is good for you, you might want to consider making it a part of your daily schedule. To help you get started, we’ve created an easy-to-follow guide on how to get the most out of this napping style.
1. Know When to Doze Off
The first thing you need to do is find the right time to take a nap.
As a rule, you should schedule it between 1 pm and 3 pm. During these hours, you are more prone to the so-called “midday energy slump” that can occur due to your body’s natural daily rhythm. In fact, the afternoon lull is the main reason why people in warmer climates practice siesta on a daily basis.
Sometimes you won’t be able to make the time for a quick nap during these two hours. If so, you can still give it a go a bit later, but make sure to be up by 4 pm at the latest. Otherwise, you may have trouble falling asleep later in the evening, which could result in chronic sleep problems and even sleep deprivation.
2. Choose the Place
After you’ve scheduled your nap, it’s time to find the right place to do it. Of course, the place you choose will depend on where you’re at during the standard two-hour nap window.
If you’re at work, you might need to go out and sit in your car to take a quick nap. Since most companies don’t allow their employees to sleep in the office, this may be your only option for the time being. Things could change sometime soon, though, as more businesses are becoming open to the idea of allowing their workers to take short naps.
Some people can fall asleep easily no matter where they are, regardless of whether they’re sitting or lying down. If you’re one of those people and you’re a college student, you could try sleeping at the library, seeing as the quiet environment is ideal for catching the afternoon zzzs. Just place something soft – like a sweater or a jacket – on the desk and put your head down on it.
If you’re at home and want to take a quick siesta, the best way to do is to lie on your living room couch. Don’t nap in your bedroom, as the familiar surrounding could make it easier for you to oversleep.
3. Time Your Nap
As we have explained earlier in this article, a power napping session usually lasts between 20 and 30 minutes. The rules are not very strict, which means that you can adjust the duration of your nap based on how much time you have. If you’re only getting started, it is best to try different lengths to find the one that gives you the biggest energy boost.
Make sure to set a timer for your nap before you actually fall asleep. Because you might not be able to wake up on your own, at least not until you develop a habit. Set the alarm to go off in 30 minutes or so. If you’d prefer not to be woken up so abruptly, you can ask your roommate or a family member to give you a nudge or two at the end of your scheduled nap.
4. Have a Cup of Coffee First
We’ve already told you about the combined benefits of caffeine and napping on your alertness and wakefulness. If you want to maximize the effects of your afternoon nap, you might want to have a cup of coffee beforehand. This is called a caffeine nap. Your body needs at least 20-30 minutes to absorb caffeine, which means that it won’t kick in before you’re supposed to wake up.
But if you’re taking a siesta a bit later in the day, especially after 3 pm, it is best to skip the coffee. Otherwise, the caffeine may prevent you from falling asleep later on, which could affect your productivity and alertness the next day.
5. Eliminate Distractions
To ensure you wouldn’t wake up before the alarm goes off, you need to get rid of any potential distractions. For starters, you should ideally choose a quiet place to take your nap. That’s not always possible, which is why you might want to put on headphones and play some quiet, relaxing tunes to drown out the background noise.
If after a few minutes you’re still having trouble falling asleep, don’t give up right away. Getting into the habit of power napping takes time, especially if you’ve never done it before. Keep your eyes closed even if you’re not sleeping, as that will help your body get used to the new habit and your brain might still get a small boost.
The Final Word
Power napping in the early afternoon is a great way to get a quick energy boost when you need it the most. This method can help you get rid of daytime sleepiness and regain alertness. It could also help you catch up on your zzzs after a particularly rough night and thus avoid disrupting your usual sleep pattern.
If you decide to turn it into a habit, our easy tips can help you get the most out of your siesta. Whatever you do, just make sure not to go over the 30-minute limit. And if you find falling asleep difficult at first, keep trying, because the benefits are worth the extra effort.