Power naps: Benefits and how to do it properly

Power naps: Benefits and how to do it properly

Daytime fatigue and drowsiness are common issues that can negatively impact productivity, cognitive performance, and overall well-being. These feelings often arise due to factors such as long working hours, irregular sleep schedules, high-stress environments, certain medical conditions, or the demands of caring for young children. However, power napping, a practice involving short sleep periods typically lasting 20-30 minutes, has emerged as a strategic approach to restore energy levels.

This article will discuss the concept of power napping, the scientific evidence behind its effectiveness, and practical strategies for implementing this practice into one’s lifestyle.

What is a power nap?

A power nap is a concise, deliberate sleep session that differs from regular sleep by focusing on the initial, lighter stages of the sleep cycle. Unlike a whole night’s sleep, which involves various sleep stages (such as light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep), a power nap intentionally targets the initial, lighter stages of sleep. During these stages, the brain is not deeply asleep, which allows for a quick return to full alertness and function upon waking. By limiting the nap to the lighter stages of sleep, individuals can enjoy the benefits of sleep without experiencing the grogginess that can accompany waking from deeper stages of the sleep cycle.

Typically, a power nap lasts 10 to 20 minutes, avoiding deeper sleep stages that can cause sleep inertia. By carefully regulating the duration of these naps, individuals can maximise the advantages of the lighter sleep stages while minimising the likelihood of transitioning into deep sleep. Additionally, finding a suitable environment that is quiet, comfortable, and free from distractions can enhance the effectiveness of a power nap, allowing a more restful sleep experience.

Are power naps good for you?

Power naps can enhance memory, improve cognitive performance, and increase alertness. These benefits can be attributed to the fact that short naps include the lighter stages of sleep, such as stage 2, where memory consolidation and information processing occur. Sleep spindles, which are bursts of brain activity, are prominent during this stage and are associated with integrating new information and memory formation.

Research showed that napping could enhance performance more significantly in individuals who regularly take naps than those who do not. The study also highlighted that different sleep features, like spindle density, were associated with performance improvement, emphasising the role of specific sleep stages in the benefits of power napping. 

Cognitive function benefits

Power naps have been shown to enhance various aspects of cognition, including memory consolidation, learning, information processing, alertness, and focus. Research has shown that short daytime naps improve cognitive performance, particularly regarding alertness and executive function. Furthermore, napping has been associated with better memory performance compared to caffeine consumption, which can impair motor learning. These findings suggest that power naps can be a valuable tool for individuals looking to optimise their cognitive abilities, offering an advantage over caffeine and the no-naps routine.

Mood and well-being benefits

Power napping promotes a more positive outlook by reducing stress and anxiety, improving emotional regulation, and enhancing creativity. Naps decrease the reactivity of the amygdala to harmful stimuli, which can improve one’s ability to regulate emotions. Additionally, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, a component of power naps, gives the brain time to pause and recollect itself, as it’s a time when there are low levels of the anxiety-inducing chemical norepinephrine in the brain. Moreover, REM sleep has also been associated with enhanced creativity. However, it’s important to note that the benefits of napping can vary depending on individual differences and the quality and duration of the nap.

Potential physical health benefits

Power napping also has physical health advantages. Individuals who napped once or twice a week had a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular events than non-nappers. Additionally, napping can enhance physical performance, including motor skills, which is particularly beneficial for athletes and those engaged in physical activities. These benefits highlight the potential of napping as a non-invasive intervention to boost overall health and well-being.

How to take a power nap?

When it comes to power naps, it is essential to consider both the duration and timing of your nap. The ideal time for a power nap is during the early afternoon, typically between 1 pm and 3 pm, corresponding to the post-lunch dip in alertness and energy levels as part of the circadian cycle. This timing helps maximise the benefits of a nap without significantly disrupting nighttime sleep patterns.

The optimal length for a power nap is generally between 20 and 30 minutes. Napping for this duration allows your body to enter the initial stages of light sleep, which can boost alertness and cognitive performance without risking the deeper stages of sleep that can lead to sleep inertia or grogginess upon waking.

To create a comfortable napping environment, consider the following tips:

  • Find a quiet, dark, and calm place to minimise distractions and promote restful sleep.
  • Use an eye mask or blackout curtains to block out light. Even a small amount of light can disrupt melatonin production, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle.
  • Invest in a comfortable surface like a couch, recliner, or dedicated nap pod to support proper body alignment and reduce discomfort.
  • Minimise exposure to blue light from electronic devices before napping, as it can disrupt your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.
  • Avoid caffeine intake after 3 p.m. as its stimulant effects can persist for several hours and disrupt sleep quality.
  • Set an alarm or timer to ensure you wake up after the targeted nap duration, preventing oversleeping.

By following these guidelines and creating a conducive napping environment, you can maximise the potential benefits of power napping while minimising the risk of sleep disruptions or grogginess. 

Should you always have a power nap?

Power napping can be a valuable tool but should not be considered a substitute for adequate nighttime sleep. While occasional power naps can combat daytime fatigue, improve cognitive function, and enhance overall well-being, it’s essential to prioritise a healthy sleep routine at night. A nap that lasts around 90 minutes can be refreshing but disrupt nighttime sleep if taken too late. Relying on naps instead of a whole night’s sleep can lead to broken sleep patterns or sleep conditions like insomnia

However, the impact of napping isn’t the same for everyone. Studies indicate that naps mainly affect the night sleep of older adults rather than younger or middle-aged adults. The key is to combine sufficient nighttime sleep with strategic power napping during the day. This approach can optimise your energy levels, cognitive performance, and overall quality of life. Meditation can be a good alternative for those who cannot take a power nap or feel uncomfortable napping during the day. It allows the body to rest and generates slower brain wave patterns like those experienced during light sleep stages.

How can Dr Dipesh Mistry help? 

If you consistently struggle with daytime fatigue, difficulty sleeping at night, persistent sleep quality issues, or struggling to make effective napping habits, seeking professional guidance is crucial. In some cases, an underlying health cause may need to be addressed to allow you to return to good-quality sleep. If this is the case, it is important to identify the root cause as soon as possible and take the right steps to ensure the best treatment and care is given. 

As a leading sleep physician and psychiatrist, we offer consultations for those having trouble sleeping. Please contact us if you require further advice on methods to help fall asleep at home or are unable to fall asleep.



The articles in the Sleep Psychiatrist blog have been written by Dr Dipesh Mistry. They are for educational and informational purposes only, and should not be regarded as medical advice. Always seek advice from your sleep physician, personal physician, psychiatrist, or any other suitably qualified healthcare professional in relation to any interventions or treatment for your sleep, mental health or physical health.

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