First, though, a quick primer on sleep cycles: A sleep cycle lasts approximately 90 to 120 minutes and is made up of four stages. Stage one is drifting off, stage two is when your body starts preparing for deep sleep (by lowering body temperature, slowing heart rate, the whole shebang). Stage three is all about restoration (it's hardest to wake up from this stage). Finally, you wrap up in stage four, REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the deepest realm where dreams happen.
"Shorter naps are typically refreshing and can help increase alertness for a few hours." — sleep expert Shelby Harris, PsyD
The key to mastering the power nap really relies on being able to conk out for a certain amount of time. "Twenty minute power naps are often better than longer ones since lengthier naps cause you to get into deeper stages of sleep, leading to an increased feeling of grogginess upon awakening," says sleep expert Shelby Harris, PsyD, author of The Women’s Guide to Overcoming Insomnia. "Shorter naps are typically refreshing and can help increase alertness for a few hours."
That's because as you slumber deeper into the stages, you put yourself at risk of suffering sleep inertia, which is basically that groggy garbage-y feeling of being woken up before you’re ready. In effect, this can leave you feeling more fatigued than less, in a backward, counterproductive way. So if you’re not going to make room for the full 90-to-120 minute sleep cycle during your nap, it’s best to keep things within the earliest sleep stages, wherein you open yourself up to the all the power nap benefits available.
And if you're a nap-benefits truther who isn't sold on the practice period? Well, after you get details about power nap benefits below, rest-assured you'll want to start your micro-snoozing habit sooner than later.
5 power nap benefits that'll encourage you to get in those winks
1. Naps can improve your focus and productivity
If you're working for what seems like 14-hour days (or even actually working 14-hour days), you may find your eyes glazing over, unable to form thoughts or carry out the functions required of you to complete your job. That's where a quick reset like a power nap can help you out.
"Short, 20-minute naps have been shown to reduce accidents and mistakes while also improving attention, concentration, performance and alertness,” Dr. Harris says.
2. Naps can get you through alternative or changing schedules
"Shift workers can benefit from brief naps just before night work or during a break, with some needing a nap before driving home to make sure they aren’t drowsy and behind the wheel," says Dr. Harris.
3. A power nap can lessen negative emotion
"Naps improve mood and stress management," says Dr. Harris. If you’re feeling worried or upset or overwhelmed with sadness, a power nap is there to curl up with you and give you a bit of a reset. While it can’t solve all the world’s problems (if only it could) research supports that it can stabilize your mood.
4. Napping can improve memory recall
Can't remember to do the thing with the other thing at that time? Well, research points to naps being able to help with cognition, and short power naps, specifically, can help with memory recall. So if you ever find that your problem-solving, memorizing, sentence-forming abilities are all muddled, it may be time to curl up on the sheets for a few minutes.
5. And duh, a power nap can make you feel less tired overall
The most important factor is that you’re not adding unnecessary hours to your sleep deficit and making it more difficult to doze off at night. If you keep things speedy and efficient, a power nap can be more effective for combatting tiredness than your much-needed morning caffeine boost.
To make the most of these power nap benefits, take one at this most ideal time
Unsurprisingly, that time is around when you would've done it back in your kindergarten days: After you enjoy your Lunchables, but way before dinnertime.
"Power naps taken before 2 p.m. tend not to interfere as much with nighttime sleep, provided you normally go to bed around 11 p.m., so earlier naps are better." —Dr. Harris
"Power naps taken before 2 p.m. tend not to interfere as much with nighttime sleep, provided you normally go to bed around 11 p.m., so earlier naps are better," Dr. Harris says. "If you find that you have trouble sleeping at night, avoid napping during the day."
And unless you're snoozing on the go, you don't need to break out any weird squishy mats. In fact, it's really preferred that you commit to that mattress life and optimize your environment for the perfect nap. "Make sure the nap space is quiet, calm, and relaxing, and in darkness or dim light if possible," Dr. Harris says. "Get comfy and if possible, nap in your bed!"
Ultimately though, however you take your power nap, just know that during these exhausting times, we all deserve a rest. So if you have the ability, set yourself an alarm to go off in 20 minutes, and fit in a power nap.
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