The Power Nap: The Perfect Way to Become More Productive

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No doubt you’ve experienced the afternoon slump, that dip in your energy levels you feel hours into your day. It causes you to lose the ability to focus or the desire to do much of anything, right? Well, you’re not alone. Paychex asked 1000 people about their experience with work and productivity and found that 81% of workers experience the afternoon slump for more than half the working week.

Part of the reason for this might lie in our evolutionary history. We decided to sleep for a certain period each day — during the hours of darkness — and be awake the rest of the time. However, this is not the way most mammals sleep, and it may not be the best way for us humans to sleep either. Most mammals habitually sleep for short periods many times throughout the day.

We could emulate our fellow mammals’ habits to help solve the problem of the afternoon slump and make it a point to take an afternoon nap.

Later, we’ll share some tips on how to take the best nap and make sure you don’t sleep for too long. First, though, let’s look at what benefits research suggests we can derive from naps and give you some background on sleep.

Without further ado, let’s find out how taking a power nap might be a fantastic way to become more productive.

A little background on sleep

There are two main phases of sleep:

Non-rapid eye movement or slow-wave sleep (NREM).

Rapid-eye movement sleep (REM).

When first you fall asleep. You go into NREM sleep, but after 60-90 minutes, REM sleep takes over. Each night, you go through 4-6 periods of NREM and REM sleep.

You can move when in NREM, though your eyes don’t. Your blood pressure and heart rate both decreases, as does your brain activity. When you enter REM sleep, your eyes move but your body is paralyzed, and your brain activity rises as you begin to dream. It is also possible to dream just as you enter a phase of NREM sleep.

Learning, memory, and NREM sleep

NREM sleep plays an important in learning and memory. Research involving rates suggests that they need to get NREM sleep to learn. Brain activity has been recorded in the hippocampus (the area of the brain known to be important in both processes). Some rats were put into a maze and placed in it again after they got some NREM sleep, and another group of rats was not given the chance to sleep before they were again placed in the maze. The rats that had NREM sleep performed better in the maze and appeared to remember routes and worked through the maze more easily. Scientists believe this indicates that the consolidation of memories happens in NREM sleep.

A similar experiment was done with human participants. Participants spent the day in a lab with a sleep scientist, Professor Robert Strickgold. They were trained to find their way through a virtual maze at lunch and then sent off for a short nap. Their brain waves were monitored, and they were woken if they entered REM sleep. A second group of participants was asked to sit in a quiet room for a while, but not sleep.

Following the rest period, both groups of we asked to navigate the virtual maze again. Those who had napped and had gained some NREM sleep performed significantly better than those who had not, reinforcing the idea that slow-wave sleep helps strengthens memories and makes the process of recall more effective.

How much sleep do we need?

Humans need between 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Ensuring you get sufficient sleep helps improve your physical and mental health and if you don’t get enough, it can have wide-ranging consequences for your cognitive function, alertness, work performance, and productivity. Many vital processes take place when you sleep and disruption to them can be massively detrimental.

Benefits of power napping

A study conducted by the Harvard Medical school in 2009 found evidence to suggest that taking a nap of between 20 to 30 minutes in the middle of the day can be more effective than getting more shut-eye at night.

Research from the Salk Institute indicates that people who take power naps have increased brain activity, and had better memory and an improved mood when compared to those who don’t nap. Taking a short nap can help you deal with stress and boost the immune system by reducing your cortisol levels, helping to refresh you. You are also 34% less likely to die from cardiac problems.

Other benefits of napping include:

  • Lowering your blood pressure.
  • Improving your cognitive function.
  • Enhancing your memory and ability to process information.
  • Boosting your productivity.
  • Making you more alert.
  • Boosting your mood.
  • Reducing the number of mistakes made.
  • Regaining your focus.

Now, let’s explore the best things to do to get the most out of your power nap.

Woman napping on a sofa.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

How to take the perfect power nap  

Ready to take a nap and discover how much it can help you cope better with stress in your everyday life and boost your productivity? Here are a few things to remember if you want to get the best results.

Set an alarm to keep your nap short

If you sleep for any longer than half an hour, you are liable to fall into a deep sleep and wake groggy. It might hinder your ability to sleep at night. For the same reason, taking a power nap earlier in the day rather than later can help you get a better night’s sleep. So, aim to get your nap in before 3pm if you want to get the most out of it.

Get rid of distractions

Switch off your smartphone and other devices and retreat to a quiet place. If you think you might be disturbed, consider using ear plugs to ensure you can nap for 15-20 minutes uninterrupted.

Watch the caffeine consumption

If you want to take a power nap after lunch, refrain from drinking ogles of coffee or tea earlier in the day. High levels of caffeine in your system might make it tricky for you to drop off unless you drink it immediately before your nap.

Make yourself comfortable

For the best results, you’ll need to make yourself comfortable. So, rather than lying back a taking a kip in your office chair, stretch out on a sofa and use a pillow or cushion for your head. Make sure that the room is at a comfortable temperature, so you can fall asleep quickly.

Turn off the lights

Too much light can make it hard for you to take a nap, so draw the blinds and turn off the lights to make it dark enough to sleep.

Try to make your power nap a stress-free zone

In an earlier post, we talked about how meditation can help boost your productivity and you can use it to your advantage to clear your mind before you take a quick kip and make sure your afternoon nap is a stress-free zone. Concentrate on the present moment for a minute before having your nap and remind yourself that this is your 20 minutes. You’ll have the rest of the day to deal with any problems and get through the rest of your daily work and tasks.

Give yourself a few minutes to get back into action

If you nap for a little too long, you may wake a little groggy. Even if you nap for the perfect amount of time, you might be a little disorientated for a few minutes, so give yourself a little while to wake up fully. Move around a bit and splash some cool water on your face so you’re ready to face the rest of the day and power through unfinished business.

Remember, taking naps after 4pm can prove counterproductive and make it difficult to sleep through the night. Naps should never replace your 7-9 hours a night, so plan them well to get the most benefit out of them.

Wrapping Up

You might now have a better idea of why taking a power nap could help you become more productive. Hopefully, you’ve even enjoyed discovering some unexpected advantages of napping and learning a little more about sleep.

Now you can use power naps as a part of your arsenal which can help lift your mood, boost your memory, and make it easier for you to learn stuff, as well as help you work more effectively. All you need do now is follow some of the tips given here to start power napping to conquer the afternoon slump.

Published by Lizzie

Lizzie here. I'm a freelance copywriter and editor based in the UK. I'm also passionate about volunteering and hold an MA in History from the University of Warwick. I've written for a multitude of fantastic websites and companies, including a legal automation software company, a dog training site, and more. Check out my reviews on Fiverr and Upwork for more info!

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