Maybe today is one of those days where you can really feel the fact that you didn’t get enough sleep last night. Maybe the alarm clock tore you out of a deep slumber and now your morning coffee is a disappointment. Maybe you barely made it to work, your email in-box is overflowing, and your head is about to burst. Or maybe it’s one of those days where you just can’t seem to get yourself going.
We all have days like these, where we find ourselves struggling to function as we normally would as the day progresses -- regardless of whether or we slept too little or too much the night before. The fact is that our everyday work lives require great expenditures of energy and, at some point in the day – at the latest after eating lunch – our concentration fades and we yearn for a comfy bed.
These are the moments when a short midday nap -- a power nap – can give you just the boost you need. The actual health benefits of a power nap depend on the precise timing, setting and length of your snooze. Here we take a closer look at the power nap as a potential wonder weapon for generating the energy you need to get through the rest of the day.
The power nap: What is it?
Most of us are familiar with the concept of the midday or afternoon nap. As kids, we often resented the dreaded nap as an interruption of our precious playtime. Yet in some cultures, the health benefits of a daytime nap for children and adults alike are undisputed facts of life: For people in Spain, Japan and China, the afternoon nap – or the “Siesta”, “Inemuri” and “Xiu-xi” – is essential to everyday life.
But what, exactly, does a power nap involve? Basically, a power nap is nothing more than a short snooze around noon or in the early afternoon. Ideally, it allows us to embark on the second half of our workday feeling revived and energetic.
When, where and how long should you take a power nap?
As a short nap taken in the middle of the day, the power nap seems like a straightforward thing to do, where little can go wrong. But there are actually several factors, including the timing, setting and length of a power nap, that influence just how effective it can be.
At what point during the day does it make sense to have a nap?
In general, it makes sense to take a nap as soon as drowsiness sets in and you notice a drop in your performance. If possible, it’s best to take a short nap during your lunch break. Most people are hit by a wave of sleepiness around noon or in the early afternoon because they’ve already worked half a day and burned up a tonne of energy – energy they need to get through the rest of the day. A recent study was able to identify the hours between 1pm and 3pm as the period – in terms of our biorhythm – when our attention and performance levels hit bottom and our need for sleep is at its highest. This makes it a great time for a power nap.
The perfect setting for a power nap
Finding a comfortable lying-down position is best for a power nap. Of course, most of us don’t have a cosy bed or sofa available to us at the office. But you can also have a great nap while simply sitting in a chair. The most important thing here is to make sure that your head is supported. Even a power nap that leaves you feeling fit as a fiddle can also leave you with a stiff neck if you’re not careful. So when taking a nap while sitting in an office chair at your desk, be sure to use a neck pillow or something similar.
To get as much as possible out of a power nap, we recommend silence. Find a place where you won’t be disturbed and where you have peace of mind. By definition, a power nap is short and sweet. There’s no room for everyday worries or work-related stress in a power nap. With the help of breathing exercises and relaxation techniques, it’s easy to calm yourself down and get in the mood for your mini-break.
The midday nap: How long should it be?
Anyone who’s ever hit the hay for an hour or more in the afternoon, woken up suddenly and then proceeded to stagger through the rest of the day in a groggy state of half-sleep might find it hard to imagine that a power nap can actually boost your energy. This is because the length of your power nap is crucial to how well you feel afterwards.
Given that we enter a phase of deep sleep after about 30 minutes, the recommended time for the perfect power nap is roughly 10 to 30 minutes. If you slumber too long, you run the risk of spending the rest of the day feeling sluggish and possibly even more tired than before.
What’s the secret to getting the length of your power nap just right? Well, you can always set your alarm, of course. Drinking a cup of green tea or coffee right before you nap is an alternative. Because caffeine takes effect after about 20 minutes, it should prevent you from entering the deep-sleep phase. However, neither method can account for the fact that you never know how long you’ll need to actually fall asleep in the first place.
That’s why our favourite approach is one supposedly used by Albert Einstein back in the day: Hold a keychain in your hand or clamp it between your legs. As you sink slowly deeper into sleep and your muscles relax, the keychain falls to the ground and wakes you up.
Are their health benefits to midday naps?
A power nap a day keeps the doctor away? You bet. Especially if you take the factors noted above into account, a midday nap can boost your overall health and wellbeing.
Depending on when and how long you nap, your age and napping experience, a power nap can indeed have a positive effect on your ability to focus, attention level, as well as your creativity and memory performance. In addition, a recent study involving 28,571 participants showed that people who took regular afternoon naps had a 37% lower risk of having a heart attack.
A midday nap can also be healthy for people who don’t get enough sleep at night or who suffer from an acute lack of sleep. Indeed, sleep deprivation can weaken our immune system, cause inflammation, foster the release of stress hormones and even promote insulin resistance in our cells. When we learn to yield the wonder weapon of the power nap, it can help us combat and even reverse the harmful effects of our everyday stressful lives.
In short: Make a power nap part of your midday routine
The next time you start feeling sleepy in the early afternoon, why not give the power nap a try? Just take 20 minutes out of your lunch break, find an appropriate setting, make yourself comfortable, take a few deep breaths, close your eyes and slip into the snooze. And remember, it’s totally normal if you don’t fall asleep the first time or have an ideal power nap experience. Like many things, taking power naps requires a bit of practice, so don’t give up!
As soon as you get the hang of it, you’ll start noticing what power naps can do for your health, wellbeing and your performance.
Goodbye sugar highs and caffeine shots - Hello power nap!