The Science of the Power Nap: How a Mid-Day Slumber Can Make You More Productive

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Whether you're just returning from a sunny spring break vacation or finishing up your last midterms, the giant workload looming ahead can leave you feeling more worn out than ever. While it's tempting at times like these to run to the nearest Starbucks and down a few espresso shots, the answer to being more productive may lie in taking a break from your work to nap.

It seems counterproductive, right? However, scientific research has proved time and time again that a quick power nap is a great way to increase energy levels and productivity. In fact, some companies, such as Google and Apple, believe so strongly in the benefits of power naps that they allow their employees to nap on the job!

Before you reach for that Red Bull, read on to learn how to boost your energy in a more effective and healthy way.

Why should I nap?


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  • There are many health benefits. These include reduced stress and a lower risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and weight gain.
  • It increases your brain power. Naps lead to improvement in creativity, problem solving, memory, stress management, reaction times, cognitive learning, and learning capacity.
  • It saves money. Think about all of the money that you spend on Starbucks or energy drinks. Imagine if you could save all of that money and experience improved results. You can! Multiple studies have shown that a 20 minute nap is more effective than 200 mg of caffeine when it comes to productivity.
  • It increases productivity. When you have a large task to accomplish, you may feel the need to push through it from beginning to end. However, many studies show that this is not the case. For example, one study asked subjects to perform a visual task over the course of four days, and found that as time went on the subjects' performance generally decreased. But when the subjects were allowed to take a 30 minute nap mid-way through their work, the decline in performance was halted, and after a 60 minute nap, subjects' performance actually improved.
  • It improves your mood. When you nap, your brain releases the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is responsible for regulating your mood. Replenishing this chemical leaves you feeling content and generally more positive.

 When Should I Nap?

The ideal time to nap typically falls between 1 and 4 p.m., but is dependent on the schedule of the individual. Take caution when napping later in the evening, as this can cause problems with falling asleep later that night.

How Long Should I Nap?

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There are a few different time increments that scientists suggest to optimize the results of power naps, each with different benefits and consequences. I'll outline each one below:

  • 10-20 Minutes: This length of time is perfect for a quick boost in energy and alertness. It allows you to experience stage 1  and stage 2 of the sleep cycle, before entering a deeper slumber in stage 3, which can leave you more tired than before if interrupted. This length of time is convenient and the best suited for a hectic schedule.
  • 30 Minutes: This length of nap can often lead to sleep inertia - a groggy feeling that can take a while to shake upon waking and recognizing the full benefits of your nap.
  • 60 Minutes: This length of time is best for improving memory of facts and creativity. While more effective than the 30 minute nap, it can also result in sleep inertia.
  • 90 Minutes: This length of nap is optimal and allows you to complete a full sleep cycle, leading to increased memory and creativity, as well as an extreme increase in alertness. It also avoids the dreaded sleep inertia, which makes it easier to wake up. However, finding 90 minutes to give up during the middle of your day can be extremely impractical or unmanageable.

The length of your nap is something that you should tailor to your schedule. If you need energy in a hurry, a 10-20 minute power nap is the best option for you, but if you have more time, you may do well to take a 90 minute nap and complete the entire sleep cycle.

Whatever you choose, it's essential that you avoid interrupting the sleep cycle in a stage of deep sleep because that is what causes additional grogginess.

The Super Power Nap


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For those days when you really need that extra boost, consider coordinating caffeine intake with your nap. On average, caffeine takes about 20 to 30 minutes to take effect. If you drink it just before you go to sleep, you'll wake up ready to go, feeling the power combo of your nap and the energy-boosting effects of the caffeine.

Some words of advice...

  • When taking a power nap, you should always set an alarm to wake you up. The length of your nap has a large impact on the benefits and consequences that you experience upon waking, so keep this in mind before going to sleep.
  • If you are taking a 10 to 20 minute power nap, some researchers suggest sleeping in a slightly upright position, like in a recliner or propped up by pillows, because this aids in avoiding a deep sleep that can leave you with hangover-like grogginess when you wake.
  • Optimize your environment. Turn off the lights, try to limit noise, and clear your mind of your worries. The goal is to be more productive by napping, so you want to fall asleep as quickly as possible.

What do you think?

What are your tips and tricks for a quick mid day energy boost? Let me know in the comments below!

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