The power of power-napping & how to do it properly
Power-nap! Should you be napping? A short afternoon snooze is like hitting the reset button in your brain - science says so. Here’s why we should all be closing our eyes during the day...
Need a power-nap? You know the feeling. It’s 3pm on workday and your eyelids feel like they have weights hanging off them. You’ve tried the sugar boost from a mid-afternoon snack and immediately gone into an even heavier slump.
But glugging an energy drink or eight cups of coffee a day is actually the reason many of us lie awake at night staring at the ceiling - insomnia. If we turn the clock back to the caveman days, however, things were very different.
A brief history of power napping
To understand why power-naps work, we need to know their origin. It’s believed that our ancestors slept in stages (rather than a solid eight hours like we do now) because someone needed to stay awake and keep an eye out for danger. More than 85% of mammals still sleep this way, known as polyphasic sleeping - anyone who has a cat will know they nap throughout the day and night.
Fortunately, we don’t need to stay awake to protect our families from saber tooth tigers anymore. But we’re designed to nap. It’s not a luxury - it’s a biological necessity.
Research by Harvard Medical School indicates that we should schedule in a daytime nap to fight the midday slump. A quick snooze has shown to be the most effective way to fight afternoon tiredness - more than consuming caffeine or even getting more nighttime sleep.
Power napping can boost your immune system, improve memory and clarity of thought, boost alertness and creativity and create a more peaceful state. Do it right and you’ll continue your day with a fresh, wakeful mind, rather than a sluggish post-sleep daze. Here’s how:
How to power-nap like a pro
When we sleep, our body goes through five different stages:
● Stage one lasts between two to five minutes, where thoughts begin to loosen up.
● Stage two lasts around 20 minutes: your heart rate slows down and eye movement stops. Your brain starts producing short, synchronised bursts of electrical activity called ‘sleep spindles’ which last about one second.
● Stage three is the period between light and very deep sleep. Slow ‘Delta’ brain waves are mixed up with with small, faster waves.
● Stage four is around a half-hour of pure Delta sleep. No eye movement or muscle activity - it’s hard to wake up from this stage.
● Stage five is rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep. Your muscles become paralysed and your brain is extremely active - this is when dreams occur.
For a proper power-nap, you need to stay in light-sleep-mode (stage two). This allows the sleep spindles to occur for a better brain refreshment. Studies by NASA in 1995 found that a 26-minute power-nap boosted performance by 34% and alertness by 54%. This means you’ll avoid entering deep sleep and won’t wake up feeling even more sleepy.
The best time for a power nap is between 1pm and 3pm. Remember, napping isn’t sleeping - and you can master the midday snooze if you make a habit of it. Drifting off into even a half-sleep state is enough to thoroughly refresh the brain. Remember meditation can also help.
First, make sure you have a dark, quiet place to relax and set an alarm for 26 minutes. Relax your muscle groups one by one, from your toes up to your neck. Allow your thoughts to drift off - if anything comes along to stress you out, gently push them aside. Keep your eyes shut, your body relaxed, and you’ll get the hang of it. Don’t over-sleep when your alarm goes off - even if you feel a little drowsy for the first two minutes. This will pass and you’ll enjoy a new burst of energy. Power to the nap!