How many hours of sleep did you get last night? A third of Americans report that they get less sleep than the recommended seven hours per night, and sleep researchers have connected this lack of sleep to a wide range of potential health issues.1 If you need more zzz’s in your life, it’s time to consider the benefits of power naps.
Catching up on missing hours of sleep is often impossible, owing to busy family lives and the demands of work. But napping offers a quick, efficient way to gather some of the benefits of sleep. Researchers have started to understand the benefits of power naps, and although there are limitations, napping can be a powerful habit for supporting your busy life.
What Exactly Is A Power Nap? And Why Should More People Take A Daytime Nap?
Throughout the world, it’s common for people to take a snooze after lunch. But in some countries (including the U.S.), taking a siesta may be culturally frowned upon because it’s sometimes interpreted as a childlike or lazy behavior.2
As a result, few Americans experience the benefits of an afternoon nap, and those who wish to sleep during the day often have to make special arrangements. This has led to an epidemic of Americans sleeping at work – as many as half admit to snoozing on the company dime.3
This might sound shocking, but it’s easy to see how it happens. Sleep deprivation is the natural result of irregular sleeping hours, poor ‘sleep hygiene,’ and the ravages of stress and worry, those conditioned emotional responses which keep your brain whirring like a machine when you’re trying to relax.4
Extended screen time has also been found detrimental to the quality of sleep, especially as screens emit blue light which naturally triggers wakefulness. It’s best to turn off screens an hour or two before bed.5
Being sleep deprived means you may be at increased risk of:
- Slowed information processing
- Poor judgment
- Decreased reaction time6
- Daytime tiredness7
- Difficulties with learning8
- Poor cardiovascular health
- A weakened immune system9
- Reduced physical strength
- Mood swings10
What Are Some Benefits Of Power Naps: Can They Really Help To Restore Alertness?
A power nap is a short period of light sleep, usually 15-20 minutes long and taken in the afternoon. The field of sleep research has developed quickly in recent years, and scientists are now able to pinpoint these potential benefits of power napping.
- Restored alertness and cognition. Concerned about tiredness affecting their astronauts during space missions, NASA commissioned a study which found that a 40-minute nap boosted pilots’ performance and alertness. This benefit was experienced immediately after the nap, and lasted for several hours.11 In another study, a nap of only 7-10 minutes was found to yield a “substantial increase of alertness.”12
- Increased Creativity. Napping elevates activity in the brain’s right hemisphere, where insight and creativity happen. It also increases ‘cross talk’ between left and right brains, which means your analytical (left) and creative (right) brains are in deeper conversation.13
- Improved immune function. A small study of sleep-deprived men showed that a nap might have the effect of restoring immune system function.14
- Reduced stress15
- Improved mood16
- Lower blood pressure17
Beyond these potential benefits, power napping may also offer a less tangible return: the sense that you’ve successfully taken time to look after yourself. Seen from this perspective, a nap is an indulgence or a treat, like a nibble of good-quality dark chocolate; it’s known to be healthy but also feels just slightly luxurious.18
Napping For 30 Minutes Or Less Vs Long Naps: Get The Most Out Of Your Quick Power Nap
If you’re looking to start napping, make it a short nap. You might already know that sleep happens in stages (the most famous of which is the deep, restorative Rapid Eye Movement or REM sleep), and to get the most from your nap, it’s important to understand how these stages work.
The ideal nap will end before the brain enters deeper, slow-wave sleep, which usually begins after 20 minutes. If you nap longer than this, it’s best to sleep all the way through to 90 minutes, which is the completion of a single sleep cycle.19
Waking up between these times (especially within the 30-60 minute window) leaves you at risk of sleep inertia, a period of grogginess and disorientation. (Anyone complaining that they feel even more tired after their nap is probably experiencing sleep inertia.) This lethargy happens because the brain was busily preparing for the next stage of sleep, in which it imposes a muscle-calming process called atonia. This evolved mechanism renders muscles still and inert, probably as a safety precaution to prevent you from thrashing around in response to your dreams.20
Apart from getting the timing right, here are some other tips to help make the most of your nap:
- Practice good sleep hygiene: nap in a quiet, dark, secluded place (maybe a specific ‘nap room’), and close off sources of noise and distraction (especially your phone).
- Set an alarm for 20-25 minutes after you figure you’ll be asleep, so that you wake up before entering deep sleep.
- Wear a sleep mask and/or ear plugs, especially if conditions aren’t ideal.
- Consider using a white noise machine or app.21
A Tired Brain Versus An Alert One: Are You Getting Enough Sleep In General?
Napping is not a replacement for nightly deep sleep.22 In fact, if your nighttime sleep is usually settled and productive, napping might negatively affect your body clock.23
The signs of sleep deprivation are very common and easy to see, but that doesn’t mean you should allow disturbed nights of poor-quality sleep to ruin your enjoyment of being awake. A 15-25 minute nap in the mid-afternoon may help restore alertness, leaving you feeling refreshed enough to complete the day’s work with good focus and energy.
Walking 10,000 Steps A Day Benefits Over A Sedentary Life
Frozen Fruits And Vegetables Vs. Fresh Produce: Which Has More Nutrients?
Try This Gentle Morning Stretch Routine To Start Your Day Off Right