If you feel tired and drained during the day, you don’t need to reach for coffee or an energy drink; a power nap can leave you refreshed, with a boosted memory and creativity, and more energy.
A power nap can hold many health benefits besides upping your energy levels and refreshing your mind. But first, let’s look at what a power nap is.
What is a power nap?
“Power naps” refer to daytime naps of around 20 minutes that leaves the napper refreshed in body and mind until bedtime. These power naps do not replace the normal sleep routine, but rather add to it in a positive way. The power nap is short enough not to influence the night’s sleep routine negatively (if done right) and will rather leave you more alert and productive during the last part of the day.
Many notable people — including Leonardo da Vinci, JFK, Einstein, Winston Churchill — included napping in their routines. This just goes to show that the label of “lazy” that was often attributed to those indulging in a short nap couldn’t be further from the truth if you only use your naps in the right way.
To better understand why certain types of napping works while others don’t, it’s good to know how sleep cycles work.
How sleep cycles work
When we sleep, our brain cycles through a sleep cycle that lasts between 90 and 120 minutes. This cycle in itself contains different stages; Non-rapid Eye Movement (NERM) and Rapid Eye Movement (REM).
In the NREM stage, we enter slow-wave sleep (the deepest kind of sleep) and it is this slow-wave sleep that help us to remember facts, places, and faces. REM sleep, in turn, is associated with dreaming.
If your sleep cycle is broken — for instance if you sleep for 30 or 40 minutes — you will feel what is called “sleep inertia” where you are groggy (and most likely grumpy as well) for up to half an hour after taking a nap.
The four types of naps
- Planned/preemptive napping — This type of napping is napping before you get sleepy. For instance, if you know you’re going to have a late night, having a planned nap is a good idea.
- Emergency napping — When you’re feeling like you can’t properly do your current task because you’re so sleepy, you need to take one of these naps. They are usually advised for when you get sleepy behind the wheel or while operating machinery — that is to say, especially when making a mistake can cost you or someone else their life.
- Habitual napping — Habitual napping is when you make taking a nap a habit and taking one at the same time every day.
- Appetitive napping — One of the nicest naps to take; an appetitive nap is taking a nap simply because you enjoy it!
Power napping and its health benefits
Nearly a third of people say that they don’t feel like they get enough sleep. Part of the reason for this may be the effects of our (seemingly) nonstop interaction with technology. However, a well-timed nap may just be what we need on certain days.
A 1995 study by Bonnet et al. showed that the benefits from a preemptive nap, indeed, were less variable and lasted longer than the effects of caffeine. The benefits of these naps have also shown to be far ranging. “Napping leads to improvements in mood, alertness and performance [such as] reaction time, attention, and memory,” according to Kimberly Cote, Ph.D, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Brock University.
Even NASA has done research on the benefits of napping and found that it “demonstrated that pilots who had a 26-minute nap in the cockpit were more alert — by 54 percent — and had improved performance by 34 percent” (Tartakovsky, 2018).
Some studies have also shown that even just a few minutes spent in stage 2 sleep will leave you refreshed and energised after a nap. There are some studies that even suggest that napping “may produce the same memory gains as a full night’s slumber, as shown on tasks that tested declarative memory, motor memory and spatial memory” (Tartakovsky, 2018).
The National Sleep Foundation even describes a nap like a mini-vacation — and it really can be, if done right!
How to take a power nap like a pro
To take a proper power nap, you need to keep a few things at hand, and keep a few things in mind. Here’s how to power nap like a pro:
Find your timing sweet spot
While the sweet spot for power naps is twenty minutes, you may find that anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes is perfect for you. Try setting your alarm to different intervals, especially if you find that you wake up before your alarm goes off.
Don’t nap longer than 20 minutes though!
It’s no use trying to sleep in an uncomfortable office chair (or even worse, beneath your desk — ha!) and waking up with a sore neck and stiff muscles. If you are taking a nap at work and you are not lucky enough to have a designated sleeping pod or something similar, use an empty office (your cubicle is just not the same) and a “do not disturb” sign. Also switch off your phone’s sound. The last thing you need is the sound of emails and messages pinging when you’re trying to take a catnap.
Some people also swear by taking a power nap in their car during their lunchtime. However, you have to make very sure that the car is not too hot when you do this, as it can leave you feeling feverish and with other symptoms of heatstroke!
If you’re at home, make a point of taking your nap on your bed and not, for instance, on your couch. Not only will you be a lot more comfortable, but you will also fall asleep much quicker.
Block out the light and noise
You can also use a sleep mask to block out light if curtains or blinds won’t do the trick. Ear plugs may be necessary as you never know when your neighbours will decide that 3pm is a good time to start mowing the lawn. Sleeping headphones is also a good investment and will let you listen to some ambient music or noise while you rest.
Remember that you also don’t need to just listen to white noise, for example. You can experiment with different sounds and music (or even music and sound — there are quite a few YouTube channels that has such ambient playlists created specifically for rest and relaxation) until you find exactly what works for you.
Up and at ‘em!
Once your alarm goes off, it’s very important to get up immediately (and not press snooze). This will keep you from falling into a state of sleep inertia, which is very difficult to break. When you get up, walk around a bit, climb a flight of stairs, drink a glass of water or even go an splash your face with some cold water. Then return to the task at hand to keep your energy levels from dropping again.
See? Now you’re napping like a pro!
Do you have 90 minutes you can spare?
If you have 90 minutes to spare, you can fit in a whole sleep cycle in your nap. This is an especially helpful nap after a long exam when you feel completely drained of mental and physical energy. It will also leave you fresh to start studying for the next exam. The same goes for after a very taxing day at work. Just be sure not to take such a long nap too late as it can mess up your sleep for the night. If you get home after 4pm, for instance, rather opt for a power nap or go to bed a bit earlier.
Essential oils perfect for power naps
When you’re about to nap, you may also find that the right scents make it that much easier for you to catch some shut-eye. Here are some of the best essential oils that you can use to drift off to a perfect 20-minute nap!
Lavender is probably the most well-known of the essential oils or scents that aid in sleep. Mixed with clary sage, geranium, and ylang-ylang it makes for a divine and peaceful scent that will send you drifting off in no time flat.
You can also use a lavender pillow (a small sachet filled with dried lavender and slipped inside your pillowcase) to sleep with if you don’t want to put the essential oils on your skin.
The good news is that lavender is also good for stress, tension, and headaches; making them perfect for those days that are overwhelming and you can just feel that headache coming on.
Although we all probably know the wonderful benefits of chamomile tea before bed, chamomile oil can also be used to gently calm the nerves and soothe stress and tension. A drop or two on your pillow or on a handkerchief and breathed in can work wonders. Rather leave the chamomile tea for the evening, though, when you can fully appreciate its affects and it won’t leave you pressing that snooze button!
Rose or rose geranium
Another scent that can help to relieve tension and anxiety is rose, although rose geranium can also work.
No rose oil at hand? Try using some good quality rose-scented hand cream just before you head off for your nap. Voilá!
With its woody and sweet aroma, cedarwood has long been used for medicinal and cosmetic purposes. Says Zinia Thomas, M.D.: “it… results in improvements in sleep quality and depth, attention span and memory, and mood and emotions”.
However, don’t use citrus scents, peppermint or rosemary if you want to take that nap as they will keep you awake!
Of course, if you find that you need that little extra boost for energy, use a spritz of rosemary, lemon, orange, and lavender. This refreshing mist will keep you refreshed even on those days when a power nap is not an option.