Today we enjoy more personal flexibility and lifestyle options than ever before, but that freedom can be exhausting. There is a simple way to help manage these demands. It will give you energy and a clear mind, and offer an oasis of calm when your schedule seems like it can’t get any more packed. It’s called the power nap.
There are tremendous benefits to taking a short nap–a.k.a. power nap–in the middle of the afternoon. In addition to making you feel more rested and energetic, a short nap increases alertness and boosts creativity. Naps also boost productivity, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and accidents. A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness by 100%.
Napping reduces stress, so common to our highly committed lifestyles. In fact, research shows that the stress hormone cortisol dramatically drops after napping, especially if you didn’t sleep well the night before. And a short catnap is a better choice than having that afternoon espresso since caffeine in the afternoon or evening can disturb nighttime sleep. Napping is a natural way to sweep the fog from your brain and regain that feeling of clean energy and sense of purpose.
You’ll be in good company, too: Eleanor Roosevelt and Margaret Thatcher were committed nappers.
The length of your nap determines the benefits you’ll reap, according to the National Sleep Foundation. A 20-minute nod—called a stage two nap—is best for improving motor skills and attention. Slow-wave sleep—napping for between 30 to 60 minutes—is good for decision-making skills, like memorizing vocabulary or recalling directions. An hour to 90 minutes of sleep supports Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which helps make new connections in the brain and can support creative problem solving.
The Mayo Clinic offers the following tips for successful power napping:
Take naps in the afternoon. The most effective time to nap is between 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm, after lunch, when your blood sugar and energy start to dip. Naps taken during this time are also less likely to interfere with nighttime sleep or level of alertness. Keep in mind, however, that individual factors — such as your need for sleep and your sleeping schedule — can also play a role in determining the best time to nap.
Make it a regular habit. Power naps are most helpful if they follow a regular schedule.
Create a restful environment. Nap in a quiet, dark place with a comfortable room temperature and few distractions.
Set an alarm. If you wake up hours later than intended, you will be stressed all over again, wiping away all the benefits of your nap. And if you nap longer than 30 minutes you will be more likely to feel groggy afterward.
Afternoon naps are a great way to regain energy and alertness and to banish fatigue, says Sara C. Mednick, PhD, sleep expert and co-author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life. “You can get incredible benefits from 15 to 20 minutes of napping. You reset the system and get a burst of alertness and increased motor performance. That’s what most people really need to stave off sleepiness and get an energy boost.”