Power Nap

Don’t you just love that magical moment when your head hits the pillow after a long day? That moment of bliss lasts for 2-3 seconds and I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. You’ve had a full day and now well, it’s time to sleep. We don’t question the need to sleep, we succumb to it and hope to get a full night of sleep forbearing any need to wake up for the baby’s feeding,  a dog barking outside or a pesky mosquito buzzing around your ear.

Now the study or science of sleep is quite extensive and it includes topics such as sleep deprivation, sleep disorders, REM sleep, dreaming, insomnia, narcolepsy, snoring and sleep apnea. That’s not the purpose of this article. As ever, I want to leave you with something practical that you can use immediately.

Now if you didn’t get a full night’s sleep, I have the perfect solution for you: The Power nap.

Yet no matter how much we’ve read about the merits of a power nap, we still don’t find the time to take a nap. Besides every time I suggest this to people I usually get 2 kinds of reactions:

  1. ‘Oh I can’t do that …it doesn’t work’,
  2. Or ‘when I do take a power nap, I feel groggy or worse after sleeping for 2-3 hours ’

I heard the benefits a long time ago and I decided a while back to test it again and to see what works and what did not work. I needed to finish my book and I needed at least one more hour per day of productive writing. I tried different nap times and durations. In my case, the best time was at 7:00 or 7:30 pm or so for about 20 minutes max!  Anything longer made me feel drowsy for almost 45 minutes to an hour after the nap and I had difficulty to wake up or worse, decided to turn my power nap into deep slumber for the whole night – there goes the productivity I was  looking to gain!

Less than 10 or 15 minutes at first for me was not enough since I was not completely sure that I dozed off.  Then I started realizing that if I had dreamt about something, then I was pretty sure that I had in fact slept for a 20 minute period.

Napoleon used to do it and so did many leaders through history including many of today’s athletes so why is that we don’t find the time, if naps are supposed to make us more productive?

Maybe you just need proof?  Let me give you some insights on how sleep works… if you pardon the pun.

A power-nap captures the benefits of the first two of five stages in the sleep cycle.

Stage 1, is a drowsy period as you are falling asleep. This is followed by stage 2 (light sleep). These first two stages take place in the first twenty minutes. In addition to making you feel more rested and alert, the electrical signals in your nervous system strengthen the connection between neurons involved in muscle memory, making your brain work faster and more accurately – all this because of a nap.

Stage 3 is a moderate-deep sleep; stage 4 is the deepest level of sleep. Finally stage 5 called REM sleep or Rapid Eye Movement, is when in the final stage of sleep we have bursts of rapid eye movements. This is the stage of sleep in which most dreaming occurs.

There are a few main types of naps that can all be beneficial to performance. Recovering from fatigue a 15-20 minute nap is ideal (and some research suggests a nap as short as 5 minutes could be beneficial!)

The commonly used term, “Power nap” generally refers to a nap around 15-20 minutes that is quick and has restorative benefits since the farther along you are in your sleep stages, the harder it is to get over that grogginess or drowsiness you sometimes feel when you first wake up (known in the sleep world as sleep inertia).

The next variation of the Power nap can include caffeine shot. This includes consuming caffeine and immediately taking a 15 min power nap (I honestly have not tried this yet). The caffeine takes at least between 20 and 30 minutes to kick in, and thus tricks the body into resting and then, having the caffeine kick in upon waking from the power nap.

Now sleeping on the job is not exactly a great way to promote one’s career. However some companies are beginning to encourage and recognize the benefits of an afternoon nap, so we are seeing a trend after all. Many studies have found that naps render employees more productive than conventional coffee breaks and that power naps are best taken in the afternoon. It’s also been proven that adequate sleep and daytime power naps are critical to faster, more efficient new learning.

Even if your employer can’t help, you should test a power nap and enjoy the benefits in say, early evening.

I would encourage you to discover it on your own. First, set a time when you come home after work despite all the personal and family demands you may have – dedicate just 20 minutes. Tell your spouse or partner you only need 20 minutes. Set your alarm, shut the door and after 20 minutes you will see a difference, if of course you slept…just lying in bed for 20 minutes won’t do it.

If for the first time you didn’t feel or see the results, try taking a power nap 2-3 times that week.  At first you may feel guilty or in denial to actually taking a nap.  Don’t get hung up on this since the time you gain by having a power nap will more than compensate at the other end in terms of added productivity that evening. In my case it gave me not one additional hour but almost +2 hours of writing time!

Now you don’t notice this immediately after the nap. Give yourself 15 minutes to get over the slight Stage 2 grogginess or inertia then get back to work. Then about 30 minutes later or so, you’ll feel reenergized; you’ll wonder where this new found energy came from.

According to Brain Science leading authority, Dr. Srini Pillay, ‘Power naps are brief periods of sleep (15-30 minutes) that give the brain a chance to rest. It has been found that these brief naps may be rejuvenating and therefore help register and consolidate memories’.(*)

So there you have it. Historical leaders, today’s athletes and a leading Brain Science authority telling us that power naps make you more productive which has positive effects on your brain, learning and memory.

Want to get more work done in your day or get that extra little edge? You may find that giving your brain anywhere between 10-25 minutes of rest and by shutting down your system – I call it my deserved meltdown – for a nap, this may be the best investment in you.

Want to remember a quick catch phrase as to what happens to your brain when you do in fact nap? It’s simple:
‘Rest is repair’.

(*). Your Brain and business, Srini Pillay, 2011 FT Press, p.168

To help improve overall sleep and wellness, World Sleep Society has created the 10 Commandments of Sleep Hygiene for Adults**:

1. Establish a regular bedtime and waking time.
2. If you are in the habit of taking siestas, do not exceed 45 minutes of daytime sleep.
3. Avoid excessive alcohol ingestion 4 hours before bedtime, and do not smoke.
4. Avoid caffeine 6 hours before bedtime. This includes coffee, tea and many sodas, as well as chocolate.
5. Avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods 4 hours before bedtime. A light snack before bed is acceptable.
6. Exercise regularly, but not right before bed.
7. Use comfortable, inviting bedding.
8. Find a comfortable sleep temperature setting and keep the room well ventilated.
9. Block out all distracting noise and eliminate as much light as possible.
10. Reserve your bed for sleep and sex, avoiding its use for work or general recreation.

(**)World Sleep Society


About Paul Renaud

Paul Renaud is a Networking specialist, Certified Executive Coach, and sought-after public speaker focused on helping executives at all stages in their careers optimize their opportunities for success. 

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