Find Out How Long a Power Nap Really Is.
I am a power napper. There, I said it, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. In fact, I’ll scream it from the rooftop if I need to. The world needs more power nappers!! It’s long been one of my survival tools, but since I started living a healthier lifestyle, I consider it as much a part of my wellness routine as exercise and what I eat. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to power nap but thought you couldn’t, I’m going to fill you in on how long a power nap really is and how to do it.
What is a Power Nap?
In order to understand what a power nap is, it may first be easier to look at what it isn’t. A power nap is not an hours-long deep sleep that you occasionally take in the afternoon when you’ve stayed up too late the night before. It also doesn’t leave you feeling groggy or discombobulated. Far from it.
A power nap lasts less than 30 minutes and leaves you feeling energized and rested. Multiple studies back this up1,2,3 and even show that getting in a few minutes of stage 2 sleep is the most beneficial in improving alertness and performance1. According to this article published by the University of Michigan Health System, stage 1 sleep involves light sleep and usually lasts less than 10 minutes. In stage 2 sleep, your muscles become more relaxed and you may begin to have slow-wave brain activity4. For me, between 15-20 minutes is ideal for giving my brain, body and eyes a much-needed break.
How to Power Nap
If sleeping for a short period of time seems impossible to you, you may be right. Power napping isn’t for everyone. Some people do get into too deep of a sleep or take too long to go to sleep in the first place. If that’s you, and you’ve tried power napping before, don’t force it. Accept the fact that you’re simply not a power napper and move on.
On the other hand, if you consistently find yourself reaching for mid-afternoon caffeine or something sweet just to give you energy, I highly recommend trying the more natural approach of learning how to power nap. You’ll notice that I said, “learn how to power nap.” Yes, power napping is a routine or habit that usually has to be learned. The following steps will show you how.
Find the right time
If you work on an 8-5pm or 9-5pm schedule, you’re probably familiar with the afternoon energy slump or the “post-lunch dip1.” If you’re a shift worker, you have the equivalent, it’s just at a different time. For the purposes of this post, we’re going to focus on those who work 8-5pm.
Assuming that you’ll usually need to attach your nap to your lunch break, I suggest shooting for some time between 12:30-3pm for your nap. If you take it after 3pm, it could disrupt your regular sleep at night.
12:30-3pm is also when the physical cues that I need a nap kick in. These cues aren’t easy to miss. They’re as obvious as my eyelids starting to droop or me getting really grouchy. There are also more subtle cues such as staring at my computer and not really registering what I’m reading or writing. If I’m interacting with others, I find it hard to concentrate on what they’re saying or to remember what was said.
If I push through and wait until after 3pm to try to nap, I’m usually past the point where I can. My mind simply won’t shut down. If I can catch a window around 1pm when I begin noticing these things starting to happen, my brain is more than ready to stop for a while, and sleep comes quickly.
The main thing when determining when the right time is to nap is that it should be about the same every day. It can certainly change if needed, but for the most part, you’ll need to teach your body that this is the time to shut down for a bit.
Find the right location
Finding the right location is just as important to learning how to power nap as finding the right time. While it doesn’t have to be completely dark, you don’t want to have a light shining in your face. I usually find that having the blinds open on the windows is fine and allows enough light in to signal to my body that it isn’t night and that I don’t need to go into a deep sleep.
You’ll also want to be in a fairly quiet place if possible. If you work outside the home, that means closing the door to your office if you have one or being in your car. Trust me, a car is a perfectly fine place to nap.
Getting comfortable is key when it comes to power napping. Once you get to be a pro, comfort takes a back seat to simply making sure that you get it in, but when you’re beginning, there are a couple of elements to have in place. These include something soft(ish) to lie on and a pillow or something soft for your head.
If you’re working from home, lying on your bed may be an option. If you find that you tend to sleep too deeply there, just lie on your couch. Going to your car is also an option if you don’t have a soft surface to lie on at work. You can easily lay the seat back and be perfectly fine. Having a pillow, scarf, coat or something soft for your head makes it easier to get comfortable and elevates it to a more natural sleeping position.
If I’m at home, I like to have a blanket to put over me, even if it’s in the summer. It simply feels more comfortable.
The whole point in a power nap is to take a few minutes for yourself in the middle of the day to recharge. It’s hard to do that if your phone is ringing, buzzing or in any way letting you know that the rest of the world needs your attention during that time. That’s why I always turn on the “Do Not Disturb” function on my phone just before I’m lying down. While my family’s calls can get through during that time if it’s urgent, they also know that it had better be urgent.
That leads us to the second step in eliminating interruptions. Letting people who really need to know generally when you will be out of touch for a few minutes. That doesn’t mean that you have to announce it to the world that you’re taking a nap, but if you have a usual time that you’re shooting for, just let those who absolutely need to know that you won’t be available during that time. With most of my family doing school and working from home right now, I time when I lie down with when my son is in class. I also text my husband to let him know so that he doesn’t come downstairs while I’m lying on the couch.
Set an alarm
Setting an alarm is crucial for conditioning your body to the power nap. As you’re just starting out, I suggest setting it for five minutes before you need to be back on task or for no longer than 30 minutes – whichever is sooner. That gives you time to wake up and get back to wherever you need to be. After you’ve become a power napping expert, you’ll probably find that you don’t need to set your alarm. Your body will simply know when it’s been 15-30 minutes.
Focus on breathing
If you’re finding it hard to shut off your thoughts after about 30 seconds, focus on your breathing. Count to four as you breathe in, hold it for a second and then count to four as you breathe out. That should take the focus off your thoughts and put you in a good place for sleep to find you quickly.
Like many of the other things that we do, learning how to power nap takes practice. You are not going to be successful at it if you only do it once or twice a month. It needs to become part of your regular routine. Yes, your body may become reliant on your nap, but you can always fall back on caffeine if you can’t get it in and you’re needing a quick pick me up. In this case though, the caffeine will be a mid-day rarity as opposed to something that you have to have to get through every day.
It’s also important to note that once you’ve practiced enough and conditioned your body to power nap, you’ll be able to do it pretty much anywhere at anytime if needed. Now that’s a useful skill to have!
Bottom Line on Learning How to Power Nap
The bottom line on learning how to power nap is that it’s a free tool that you can use to be as productive and sharp as possible in a natural way. Take it from a power napping pro, it’s a skill that is possible to learn and could make the difference between feeling like you’re just getting through the day and being the best that you can be. I know which of the two that I highly recommend.
- Hayashi M, Motoyoshi N, Hori T. Recuperative power of a short daytime nap with or without stage 2 sleep. Sleep. 2005 Jul;28(7):829-36. PMID: 16124661. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16124661/
- McDevitt EA, Sattari N, Duggan KA, Cellini N, Whitehurst LN, Perera C, Reihanabad N, Granados S, Hernandez L, Mednick SC. The impact of frequent napping and nap practice on sleep-dependent memory in humans. Sci Rep. 2018 Oct 10;8(1):15053. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-33209-0. PMID: 30305652; PMCID: PMC6180010. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30305652/
- Dhand R, Sohal H. Good sleep, bad sleep! The role of daytime naps in healthy adults. Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2006 Nov;12(6):379-82. doi: 10.1097/01.mcp.0000245703.92311.d0. PMID: 17053484. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17053484/
- University of Michigan Health System. Stages of Sleep. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hw48331