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Power Nap: How to, How Long, Benefits, and Research

By Thomas Wrona Published on

Table of Contents

What do Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, and Winston Churchill have in common? They all loved taking afternoon naps. Fast forward to modern times, and organizations like NASA, Nike, and Google are turning to power naps to supercharge productivity. Many companies are even investing in nap pods and other sleep-specific products. [1

But napping has one major downside: it can be impractical. Most  people don’t have 60-90 minutes to sleep away each day. That’s where the value of power napping comes in. In this article, we’ll take a comprehensive look at power naps, the best power nap lengths, and their benefits.

What is Power Napping?

 A power nap is a short-term sleeping technique that can benefit your energy and wellness. 

While normal naps last anywhere from 30-90+ minutes, power naps last for under 30. Most people schedule their power naps in the early afternoon. 

Power napping also shines when it comes to its versatility. Napping isn’t just for preschoolers and seniors. A growing body of research shows that power naps may reduce stress and enhance awareness across age groups. [2

How Long is a Power Nap?

How long is a power nap? A power nap is intended to be short, sweet, and effective. Try to keep your power nap’s duration in the 10-25 minutes range, and pay close attention to how the duration of a power nap affects how you feel when you wake up. [3

The very best power nap length has long been up for debate. A NASA-funded study done in 1995 determined that 26-minute power naps provided the best of both worlds, improving performance at work (by 34%) and alertness (by 54%). [4

For best results, power naps should last no longer than 30 minutes. Sleep any longer and you may wake up groggy and ‘out of it.’

Set an alarm before you begin your nap to make sure you don’t over-nap. [5

In case you’re wondering, there is a reason timing matters so much: sleep occurs in predictable cycles. A healthy sleep cycle begins with non-REM sleep (stage 1) and hits true REM sleep (stage 3) later on. 

The key to power napping’s energizing effects is waking up right during the transition into stage 2. This stage features light sleep and relaxed muscles. It’s also fairly easy to wake up out of. [6]

Sleep too long and you might inadvertently enter stage 3 REM sleep. While REM sleep has many of its own health benefits, it’s also a very deep type of sleep that’s hard to wake up from. If you’ve ever woken up from a nap and felt groggier than before you went to sleep, it’s probably because you woke up from stage 3. 

20 Minute Power Nap

20-minute power naps may enhance your memory and boost your creativity. 

The slow-wave sleep that occurs during 20-minute naps may also improve your executive function — your ability to learn on the fly and make big decisions. 

20-minute power naps can also enhance your fine motor skills, making them great for athletes. [7] If you’re hoping to take up yoga or learn blues guitar, don’t discount the helpful role of the 20-minute power nap. 

5 Minute Power Nap

One 2008 study found that even “ultra-short” sleep sessions can be “enough to significantly boost memory performance,” particularly when it comes to long-term memory formation. 

How short are we talking? Six minutes. It’s likely that five-minute power naps provide access to these benefits, too. [8

While these benefits are very real, don’t think that a five-minute nap is enough to make up for a poor night’s rest. Opt for a 20-30 minute power nap if you’re feeling sleep-deprived.  

Benefits of Power Naps

The functional value of power naps has grown in recent years. That’s because sleeplessness rates have risen higher than ever: today more than 33% of Americans don’t get the 7+ hours of nightly sleep that experts recommend. 

If you fall asleep looking at your phone and wake up with the prodding of said phone’s alarm clock, your sleep schedule is probably a long way from what it could be. [9

We’re also busier than ever before. While generations’ past may have been able to take the phone off the hook and leave the letter unopened, most of us have to be ‘on’ all the time. 

Power naps might be capable of solving both of these problems — sleeplessness and busyness — at once. Below are some of their top health benefits. 

Enhanced Cognitive Performance

Power naps set the stage for several different types of mental improvements, including memory consolidation, toxin disposal, and cellular recycling. All in all, it’s a recipe for improved cognitive performance. 

“There’s a drive for us to seek sleep at some point during the day,” D.O. Camilo A. Ruiz explains.  This urge builds up throughout the course of the day, eventually triggering sleep at night. he says. “The idea with napping is that we can reset that trigger and hopefully be able to function at a higher level,” Ruiz adds. [10]

Enhanced Immunity

Some research has found that power napping may boost overall immune function. Being sleep-deprived, on the other hand, can quickly reduce your natural immunity. Aim for 7+ hours of nightly sleep and routine power naps for the greatest benefits. [11]

Weight Loss

People who sleep less are more likely to be overweight or obese. On the other hand, napping is correlated with improved energy levels and better body composition. These correlations are intuitive enough: when you sleep more, you have more energy, and when you have more energy, you move more and burn more fat for fuel. [12

Improved Memory 

According to sleep expert Dr. Robert Stickgold, sleep is a time when your brain works through its memories and determines what’s worth keeping. This process is called memory 

Consolidation. “Sleep seems to be a privileged time when the brain goes back through recent memories and decides both what to keep and what not to keep,” Stickgold says. “During a night of sleep, some memories are strengthened.” [13]

Napping’s memory-boosting properties mean that it shouldn’t be neglected — even by those who feel that they don’t have the time for it.  Speaking to college students, Dr. Stickgold offers some practical advice: “the sleep you get the night after you study is at least as important as the sleep you get the night before you study. […] You get very minimal benefit from cutting corners.”

Do Power Naps Work?

They sure do! While power naps can’t fully make up for sleep deprivation, they provide many of the same benefits as longer periods of sleep nonetheless. 

  • Relaxation
  • Better mood
  • Increased alertness
  • Reduced chronic fatigue
  • Improved cognitive and athletic performance

How to Power Nap

How do you take a power nap? It’s simple. Just find a time — normally in the early afternoon — when you feel naturally drowsy. Then set the stage for a successful power nap by dimming the lights, keeping things quiet, and setting your timer.  

For further clues as to when your power nap should take place, look no further than the Mediterranean region’s traditions.  These cultures have been taking daily siestas for hundreds (maybe thousands) of years. The hour or so after lunch is considered ‘siesta time.’ Be sure to start your own siesta by 3 pm; leaving it too late could negatively impact nighttime sleep. 

The setting of your power naps matters, too. Do your best to keep your environment cool, quiet, and as dark as possible. Ditch the computer, TV, phone, and other digital distractions. If you need to have your phone around for alarm-related purposes, be sure to put it into airplane mode. [14]

Power Nap vs. Meditation

Power naps and meditation might appear totally different, but they’re both pretty awesome! And despite how things may look at first glance, these two activities actually possess many similarities. Here’s why. 

There are many different types of meditation — and almost all of them are geared towards stilling, quieting, and rebooting the mind. (Sound familiar?)  

One of our favorite meditative activities is known as yoga nidra, or yogic sleep. This type of yoga focuses on getting into a blended state of consciousness midway between wakefulness and sleep. In this special state, your thoughts can reach a deeper, more uninhibited level. 

The ultimate goal of yoga nidra is to stay aware of how relaxed you are — and use this awareness to access deeper levels of your subconscious mind. 

Combine power napping with meditation work or yoga, and good things happen. Below is just a short list of both activities’ shared benefits:

  • Increased skin conductivity, reduced cortisol levels
  • Improved confidence, sociability, and self-esteem [15]
  • Deeper senses of peace, relaxation, consciousness, and contentment. 
  • Increased dopamine production; reduced anxiety and depression [16]
  • Increased alpha and theta brain wave activity, resulting in increased creativity [17

The Bottomline on Power Naps

In light of power napping’s health benefits, it’s no wonder that so many of history’s top inventors, icons, and iconoclasts were fans of the activity. Consider tapping into these benefits yourself — especially if life has gotten you feeling stressed out or worn down. Feeling better may only be a few minutes of sleep away!  Just don’t forget to set an alarm. 

For some extra help with getting to sleep faster and sleeping more deeply try these bedtime yoga poses.

 

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