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We’ve survived a full year into this pandemic and, let’s face it: we need, no deserve a daily power nap. It’s not about being lazy: a 20-30 minute snooze can give you a better energy boost than chugging another cup of coffee.
Study after study confirms what serial power nappers have figured out: A brief afternoon snooze can be restorative and refreshing. Data from the Pew Research Center says that more than a third of us were napping daily even before COVID. Recent studies have found that we have been day-sleeping even more since lockdown.
Clearly, people have discovered the benefits of a midday snooze. But power napping isn’t merely a substitute for a good night’s rest or a way to catch up on lost sleep time. A power nap has benefits in and of itself.
Why you need a power nap
In these pandemic times, people are suffering from what some are calling coronasomnia—sleeplessness brought on by the disruption of our daily habits. Being forced to work from home, being unable to maintain our social routines, dealing with stress from layoffs and furloughs, as well as worries about staying healthy left us tossing and turning.
Bobbie Ellis, a longtime yoga instructor in Highland Park, New Jersey, has seen the affects among her students.
“Most people I work with have full-time jobs and families,” she says. “They are going from the time they get up to the time they are falling in the bed.” The pandemic lockdown has blurred the boundaries between work/school and home/personal life. This non-stop routine interferes with our circadian rhythms—the natural 24-hour body clock that influences the sleep-wake cycle.
“Society sets us up,” says Pamela Eggleston, founder of Yoga2Sleep. “We have been indoctrinated to go, go, go go. [Stay] busy, busy, busy. We’ve been brainwashed that sleep is for wimps. People say, I’ll sleep when I’m dead. As a result, self-care falls to the side.”
See also 11 Simple Ways to Get Better Sleep
Naps to the rescue
When we’re sleep deprived, we’re at risk for all kinds of unhealthy conditions, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, anxiety and depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
That’s where power naps come to the rescue. Sleep researchers extol the virtues of napping on our creativity, health and general well-being. Neuroscientist Sara Mednick, a leading voice in nap research and author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life, says the benefits of napping are clear in the latest studies. Naps can improve everything from creative decision making to athletic performance and endurance. An hour’s nap can help improve learning capacity, according to a study at UC Berkeley. And Michael J. Breus, a clinical psychologist and author of The Power of When, says short naps can increase alertness, stamina, reduce stress and strengthen the immune system.
The Science of Snoozing
All sleep begins with the circadian rhythm, a biological process that governs your sleep/wake cycle, according to the Sleep Foundation. This internal clock is especially influenced by light, which is why circadian rhythms are tied to the cycle of day and night.
While this cycle is best known for telling us when to go to bed at night and wake in the morning, the circadian rhythm also encourages a nap in the middle of the day. You’ll feel its effects in the mid afternoon when a dip in alertness occurs approximately six to eight hours after waking, according to U.C. Berkeley neuroscience professor Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep.
That’s why Dr. Mednick suggests that the optimal nap time is between 1 and 3 p.m., when your body is naturally sleepy and you’re more likely to drop off.
Most research suggests that the length of your nap figures into its effectiveness. Sleep too long—say more than an hour—and the nap will just leave you groggy and unproductive. Most experts say a 20-30 minute power nap is optimal. But don’t overlook a few minutes of shut eye. One Australian study found that even a brief 10-minute nap produced improvements in vigor and alertness.
Power Napping 101
Everyone’s nap needs are different, but you’ve got options. Here are some ways to doze.
- The Nap-A-Latte. Have a cup of caffeinated coffee (hot or iced), then set a timer for a 20-minute snooze. The stimulant effect of caffeine will kick in just as you wake up, so you’ll be raring to go. Don’t try this more than once or twice a week so you don’t upset your normal sleep rhythms.
- Cat nap: A 20- to 40-minute snooze helps you avoid what’s called sleep inertia, or that feeling grogginess when you wake up. Shorter naps also prevent insomnia at night.
- Mid-day nap. Take a 25-minute nap between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. to boost energy and mental performance.
- Mommy (or Daddy) nap. Parents caring for newborns and young children hardly ever get enough sleep at night. Nap while your child naps instead of pushing through the chores.
- The sports-performance nap. When you’re in it to win it, take a 15- to 20-minute nap just before a competition. The short snooze will help you deliver physically and mentally.
- The shift-worker nap. People who go to work before 7 a.m. or after 6 p.m. are considered shift workers—and their work schedule puts their sleep hours outside their natural circadian rhythm. Strategic napping can help make up for broken sleep. For example, take a 10- to 20-minute nap just before reporting to work.
See also 15 Poses to Help You Sleep Better