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Naps can have a profound effect on alertness, productivity and performance; Whether you incorporate naps into your daily routine or opt for nap when you are overly exhausted. Several research studies indicate that daytime napping may come with big advantages–both psychological and professional. Which is why it’s no surprise that big corporations and businesses are now allowing their employees to nap for better performance and productivity.
Read on to find out answers to the following questions:
- How do naps work?
- When is the right time to nap and for how long?
- Can naps be used to improve performance?
- What are some best practices when it comes to napping?
How Naps Work?
Just like sleeping at night, naps help to relieve the build-up of sleep pressure that accumulates throughout the day and makes you feel tired. They essentially recharge your battery.
Naps fall into the category of polyphasic sleep, which means that in a 24 hour period, there are multiple periods of sleep. More than 85% of mammalian species are polyphasic sleepers, but we humans have elected to be monophasic sleepers. This means we typically sleep in one chunk of time at night.
However, it’s estimated that around one-third of American adults aren’t getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep each night and that sleep deprivation costs U.S. companies a staggering $63 billion in lost productivity. Making now a great time to reintroduce the daytime nap to adults.
Although this goes against societal norms, some evolutionary scientists believed we are meant to be polyphasic sleepers. In fact, some famous nappers include Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Albert Einstein, Ariana Huffington and Arnold Schwarzzeneger to name a few.
Type of Naps
Now there are different types of naps, including planned napping, energy napping and habitual napping.
You can also consider naps in terms of their length, like a short power nap of 20-30 minutes or a recovery nap of 90 minutes.
For most working adults, it’s the power nap that has significant benefits for performance without many side effects, like feeling groggy upon awakening.
In a power nap, you’re only entering into the lighter stages of sleep, which make it easier to wake up from while still experiencing rejuvenating effects. It’s estimated that your concentration and attention levels will improve for up to three hours after a power nap and will not interfere with your sleep at night, as long as you’re not doing it too late in the day.
According to NASA, a power nap was found to improve performance by 34% and alertness by 100% for their pilots and astronauts. It’s even thought to be as powerful if not more than a cup of coffee. Now for information sake, a recovery nap of 90 minutes will be a full sleep cycle and will contain deep sleep and possibly REM. This is the right option for people who are severely sleep deprived and also have the time available. For longer naps of over 30 minutes, the chances of experiencing sleep inertia increase, which is the feeling of grogginess and disorientation that comes with waking up out of deep sleep. Although this feeling should be temporary, it can be tough for someone who needs to perform right away.
Who is a Good Candidate for Power Naps?
Essentially anyone who obtains less than the recommended amount of 7-9 hours on a nightly basis.
These days, it’s common for parents, professionals, entrepreneurs and athletes to fall into this category since they typically have racing minds before bed, take longer to fall asleep, rely on caffeine for energy, spend more time on technology, enjoy the sun less and have early morning wakeups.
People under higher amounts of stress and pressure also experience more fragmented sleep and have a lower sleep efficiency, which is the amount of time spent in bed versus the amount of time asleep. Also, frequent travelers or people overcoming jet lag can improve their recovery and align their circadian rhythm with morning or early afternoon naps at their new location.
For a more detailed review of jet lag and how to overcome it, check out our comprehensive jet lag video. Similarly, anyone who feels drowsy while driving should pull over immediately to a rest area and take a power nap for safety measures. Lastly, shift workers are great candidates for naps, especially when they have them right before their shift and then consume caffeine. This will help them cope with the challenges that come with a nightly work schedule.
Performance Benefits of Power Naps?
Aside from being a way to check out of your busy life for a little bit, Naps can be extremely beneficial to a tired person at the right time and place. Naps improve mental alertness & reduce drowsiness. They have a positive impact on cognitive performance after a night of partial sleeplessness and improve your abilities for learning, tactics and strategy making.
Research indicates that when a memory, skill or process is first recorded in the brain (especially in the hippocampal region)–it is still “fragile” and easily forgotten, especially if the brain is overloaded with new information to store more things. Napping seems to push memories to the neocortex, the brain’s “more permanent storage,” preventing them from being “overwritten.”
Other benefits include improved alertness and athletic performance immediately upon arising, such as sprinting, shooting and reaction time. Time spent napping helps athletes recalibrate the body and the mind, which enables greater focus and physical strength. For everyone, naps are a great way to reduce stress, and increase confidence. All of which will help amplify your performance levels.
When is the Right Time to Take a Nap and for How Long?
Generally speaking, the best time is to nap is between 2-3 PM, which coincides with the natural dip in your biological clock and is a nice way to digest after lunch. You’ll fall asleep easier at this time and it shouldn’t impact your sleep at night. If you nap too late in the day, you will have decreased your sleep pressure and will find it more difficult to fall asleep.
Be sure to set an alarm for 20-30 minutes so that you don’t sleep for too long and also make yourself as comfortable as possible. If you can nap on a bed and in a dark room, you’ll experience greater benefits. At the very least, wear an eye mask and turn all distracting sounds off.
Once you wake up, get in bright light and do some light physical activity to dissipate any groggy feelings.
Naps before an afternoon workout are also a great idea and will help you feel more alert at the gym. If you find that naps are helping you perform better in the afternoon and evening hours, then add them to a consistent schedule. By napping at the same time every day, your body will anticipate the routine and experience even more success with it.
The Bottom Line
To conclude, the science behind napping has long been established: A nap during the day can lower stress levels, improve your mood and increase cognitive output. And working a power nap into your schedule is often easy because the ideal length is only about 20 minutes. As a secret, even a 10 minute nap can produce positive benefits and be similar to a meditation session. What you should look for is the right amount of time to restore energy without causing too much disruption to your professional duties or nightly sleep.
By doing so, you’ll be following alongside a few amazing companies that have integrated naps into their operations like Google, Zappos, Huffington Post, NASA and Ben & Jerry’s, as well as elite sports teams like the New York Jets, American Olympic Team, Boston Red Sox, and the Baltimore Ravens to name a few. So if this article hasn’t put you to sleep yet, I encourage you to plan your next power nap!
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Kelly is a Performance Sleep Coach who works with athletes, entrepreneurs, and people looking to optimize their rest for ultimate energy and recovery. With a background in holistic health and wellness, she blends ancient principles with modern sleep science to help her clients overcome insomnia, daytime fatigue, and disturbed sleep.