The Health Benefits of Power Naps

Napping can be a great way to refresh your mind and body, increase productivity, and enhance your creativity. Napping puts the body in a relaxed state, which counteracts the effects of daily stress. But effective napping is as much an art as it is a science. Not just any mid-day nap provides the health benefits you constantly hear about.

Woman napping on couch

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Naps and the Stages of Sleep

Not all sleep is created equal. When it comes to reaping the benefits of napping, it's all about experiencing the right stages of sleep. The National Institutes of Health outlines the stages of sleep, each of which is characterized by different physiological changes. 

For instance, if your nap takes you from stage 1 sleep (just drifting off) to stage 2 (when brain activity slows), you will wake up feeling energized and more alert. If your nap takes you into stages 3 and 4 (deep sleep or REM sleep), however, you will not wake easily and will likely feel groggy and tired. Sleep stage 1 typically lasts about 10 minutes while stage 2 lasts another 10 minutes. That makes the 20-minute "power nap" an ideal practice for people looking to increased alertness and motor learning skills. But just how should you prepare for a 20-minute power nap?

How to Nap Effectively

There is some controversy surrounding advice on the best way to take a nap. What it comes down to is that everyone is different. For instance, while the average duration of stage 1 and 2 sleep is about 20 minutes, not everyone glides effortlessly from one stage to the next in the same amount of time. Additionally, there are other factors that can affect your body's reaction to a mid-day snooze, like whether you're chronically sleep deprived or if you had a full night's rest the evening before.

Top 6 Power Nap Tips

The best nap is the one in which you fall asleep quickly and stay asleep for the shortest amount of time, while still waking refreshed. You can experiment with the napping techniques below to see what works for you. Here are six ways to become a successful power napper:

  • Choose the Best Time for a Nap: Assuming that you follow a fairly normal nighttime sleep schedule, prime time for power naps is typically in the middle of the day from about 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. when your energy level dips due to a rise in the hormone melatonin. Try to schedule your dedicated nap time during those hours.
  • Avoid Napping Before Bed: You might not always be able to get your power nap in during the optimal mid-day hours, and that's okay. But if you miss your prime nap time window, be sure not to take your nap within three hours of bedtime as it may interfere with important nighttime sleep.
  • Commit to a 30-Minute Maximum: When taking a nap longer than 30 minutes, you run the risk of heading into deep sleep, which can leave you feeling tired and groggy. Most people find that their optimal power nap is achieved somewhere between 20-30 minutes. Some people even find naps as short as 1 to 2 minutes to be effective. Experiment with power naps of different durations to find what works best for you.
  • Set an Alarm: When you're tired, it can be easy to sleep past your 30-minute maximum. To avoid oversleeping (and the grogginess that can follow), set an alarm to wake you. While many dedicated power nappers claim that they have trained themselves to nap only for the amount of time they set aside, it's always best to have a backup plan.
  • Opt for Darkness: In most areas of the world, mid-day naps occur during sunlight hours, which is not the most conducive atmosphere for effective sleep. To provide optimal darkness during daylight hours, use a face mask or eye pillow. Opting for darkness can not only help you fall asleep faster, but it can make your sleep more effective.
  • Find a Quiet Place: Just as darkness can make for more effective naps, a quiet napping space is also a must. Some people find that they need complete quiet to nap effectively, while others enjoy the hum of white noise which can not only be calming but can also help block out other disturbances. It's also best to assure that you will not be disturbed for the duration of your nap.

Try a Caffeine Power Nap

While most experts agree that effective naps can be a healthier option than relying on another cup of coffee, some people swear by using the power of a quick snooze and some caffeine together. A "caffeine nap," or as some affectionately call a "nappuccino," entails getting a quick caffeine boost followed by a power nap immediately after. The theory behind caffeine naps is that the alertness boosting effect of caffeine kicks in somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes after its ingested leaving just the right amount of time for a power nap.

To try a caffeine power nap, add a quick drink of caffeinated coffee or espresso (preferably one that has little to no added sugar) to the top power nap tips above before getting settled in for your nap. While you might find that the caffeine boost wakes you up, we still suggest setting an alarm for your optimal nap time.

1 Source
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  1. Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep. National Institutes of Health. National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. August 2019

Additional Reading

By Mark Stibich, PhD
Mark Stibich, PhD, FIDSA, is a behavior change expert with experience helping individuals make lasting lifestyle improvements.