How to Power Nap at Work

What do Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison all have in common? They've all made important contributions to the advancement of mankind, they're all distinguished in their respective fields, and they were all avid power nappers.

More and more employees are spending a significant part of their afternoon staring blankly at the computer screen, or pinching themselves to stay awake during an afternoon staff meeting.

A reader poll revealed that 63% of people are getting 6 hours or less of sleep at night, which, according to James Maas, author of Power Sleep, is at least 1.5 hours fewer than they need.

What's the solution? Power napping.
Twenty minutes of sleep in the afternoon recharges your body and mind and provides the extra push required to have a successful, productive day; pleasing both you and your employer.

What is a power nap?
"A power nap is defined as a short nap during the day of about 20-30 minutes duration," says William Deardorff, Medical Advisor for "This results in a winding down of activity in the brain's prefrontal cortex. The short duration of a power nap prevents the person's brain from entering slow-wave (deeper) sleep. Waking up after being in this deeper state of sleep can result in a sleep inertia causing you to feel heavy, sluggish and groggy."

"Power naps have recently been studied more extensively by researchers and found to yield many benefits such as a boost in productivity at work, lower stress, improved ability to concentrate, and enhanced mood. Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies found that with a nap, brain activity stays high throughout the day; but without a nap, brain activity declines over the course of a day," says Dr. Deardorff.

    "You must sleep sometime between lunch and dinner… Don't think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That's a foolish notion held by people who have no imaginations. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one -- well, at least one and a half, I’m sure."
    Winston Churchill

Some of the main benefits of power napping include improving alertness and memory retention, sharpening motor skills and increasing stamina. NASA sleep researchers have found that a nap of just 26 minutes can boost performance by 34 percent. Another NASA study found that napping significantly increases “working memory”, the ability to focus attention on one task while holding other tasks in memory, which is critical when performing complex work.

So how do you know if power napping is right for you? If you find that you're always drowsy on the ride home from work, or you lack energy during the afternoon, you're probably an ideal candidate for power napping.

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In addition to overall performance, power naps are especially beneficial for individuals who engage in high pressure situations where they have to be "on", such as:

  • Important presentations
  • Meetings with clients
  • Scholastic exams
  • Long drives or commutes
  • Competitive sports
  • Complex problem solving

Whether you need to gain a competitive edge, or even if you just feel like you're not making the most of your day — power napping is right for you.

How long should you nap?
The main goal of a power nap is to reap the energizing, refreshing benefits of sleep in the least amount of time, which for most people is 20 to 30 minutes. This allows the body to complete two sleep cycles, providing rest and relaxation for the mind and body, but avoiding the deep slow wave sleep cycles.

Waking up between 30 and 60 minutes of sleep will usually produce sleep inertia -- an undesirable effect that makes it hard to focus both mentally and visually. It's very important that you avoid waking up during this time frame and allot the right amount of time for your power nap.

Of course, a longer nap of one to two hours is a great luxury, allowing you to complete an entire sleep cycle by reaching your deep sleep and REM stages. This type of restorative nap is difficult to attain during the workweek, however, and is best left as a weekend indulgence.

Keep in mind that the precise timing of sleep cycles can vary from person to person, so you may want to test out a few different length naps in order to find out what works best for you.

Tips for getting the best power nap at work
Once you lay your head down for a nap, the worst thing to do is start stressing -- this will waste time and defeats the purpose of getting the most rest in the least amount of time. To help you get the most of your power nap time, we suggest trying a few of the following tips.

First and foremost: don’t put your job in jeopardy
At many companies, sleeping on the job is a firing offense. If you work in an anti-nap environment do not simply put your head down on the keyboard and doze off. If you’re thoughtful about staying within the bounds of what’s allowed at your company, however, power naps should still be possible --for example, most employers won’t mind if you nap during your coffee break or lunch break, and it may be possible for you to nap just before or after work. Increasingly (albeit slowly), more employers are allowing or even promoting naptime during work. Some more progressive companies already have a nap-friendly policy or even a room outfitted for napping.

Get comfortable
Most sleeping difficulties are psychosomatic, not physical, so if you're having trouble falling asleep, consider reevaluating the environment you're sleeping in. An environment conducive to napping is quiet, dark and free from interruptions. If you sleep on a floor at work, keep a mat (like a yoga mat that rolls up) at work, and possibly a pillow and blanket, if that makes you more comfortable. Other tools of the trade to consider – eye shades, ipod or walkman with restful music, or specific MP3 files designed to help you wind down and fall asleep.

Eat right
Avoid consuming caffeine, fat, carbohydrates or sugar in the hours before your nap as these foods make it harder to get to sleep. Instead, try to consume protein and calcium. In an ideal scenario drinking a glass of warm milk about an hour before you plan to nap will encourage you to sleep.

Wake up on time
Plan the length of your nap and set an alarm for your desired awakening time. If you do not have access to a formal alarm clock consider using the sleep timer on your cell phone or downloading an alarm clock program to your computer. If you struggle with waking up after even short naps, you might consider taking a "caffeine nap." Being late is a sure way to put an end to your power naps.

Make it routine
Don’t lose heart if you don’t fall asleep right away the first time you try to nap. You can train your body to be ready to sleep - sleeping at the same time of day, for the same amount of time, and in the same place will signal to your body that its time to rest and rejuvenate with some power shuteye.

Don’t feel guilty
Napping is great for your health and productivity. But even though most of us know this, we often still feel as though we are wasting time. This feeling of guilt only impedes successful power napping. Instead, make an effort to "recognize that you're not being lazy; napping will make you more productive and more alert after you wake up."

Where are the best places to take a power nap?
For most people, this is probably the single most difficult challenge. Where to nap at work? Remember, the more isolated and relaxing the location, the greater chance you'll quickly fall asleep.

If, like most of us, you work at a place that doesn’t have a room labeled “Nap room”, you something in this list may work for you:

  • In your office. This is obviously the best spot – if you have an office, you’re way ahead of the game. Put “do not interrupt” on your phone, close your door, and get comfortable.
  • In a conference or break room. It's best if you can reserve the room so you won’t get interrupted during your nap.
  • In the library or a book store. These are some of the best quiet places to nap. Simply head on over to the closest library or book store during your coffee break or lunch break. Same goes for a quiet coffee shop, and this has the added advantage of being able to enjoy a coffee after your refreshing nap!
  • Department stores. Some department stores have suites fully equipped with comfortable couches and chairs. The Nordstrom near me has two beautiful rest areas right near the women’s bathroom. If you don’t mind sleeping where strangers might come and go, this could work for you.
  • On a couch or reclining chair. Some employers make couches available in certain spaces, such as the restroom, break room, lunch room, or even a pumping room for nursing mothers.
  • In a parked car. This may sound crazy, but most cars are actually a pretty comfortable spot to nap. If it’s safe, you can power nap in your car during lunch in your company parking lot. Or, pull into a safe parking lot on your commute home, lock the doors, turn on some relaxing music, and get 15 minutes of powerful rest before heading home to enjoy your post-work day.
  • On the bus or train. For many of us, the sensation of moving is a total sedative, making the after work commute an ideal time to sleep. You can create a feeling of isolation if you put on headphones or earplugs.
  • As a passenger in your carpool. If carpooling is an option, see if your carpool partner would mind you driving into work and letting you be the passenger on the drive home everyday. This way you can get in a quick nap before arriving home. Again, headphones or earplugs might help, freeing up the driver to listen to the radio, crack gum or talk on the phone without bothering you.

When more attractive options run out but you desperately need a few minutes of shuteye, sit in a bathroom stall, cross your forearms over your knees, and put your head down to rest. It doesn’t sound appealing, but you’d be surprised how many people do it. A full power nap may not be possible here, but even closing your eyes to unwind can be productive. Experts advise "a brief rest has the benefit of reducing stress and helping you relax a little, which can give you more energy to complete the tasks of your day."

Basically any place where you can put your head down, stay safe, not cause a distraction to others and remain undisturbed is an acceptable place to power nap.

If you’d like to be as creative, productive and accomplished as Thomas Edison at work --or if you’d just like to feel better and have more energy in the afternoon and evening -- it’s absolutely worth it to give power napping a try.

Additional resources

Check out these links for more information on power napping and sleep deprivation:

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