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The benefits of power naps

The benefits of power naps

A short nap helps people overcome daytime fatigue and improve focus, concentration and alertness
power nap
Photo by Suyash Chandra

Be it the cubicle-bound white-collar slave, the high-flying continent-hopping corporate head honcho, the jet-setting party animals or even babbling babies — all have one thing in common. They can all benefit from a power nap.

While the wisdom in the nap still needs to be enunciated for the modern world, our ancestors were well aware of its benefits. Witness the many cultures around the world where the afternoon nap or siesta is sacrosanct.


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What is a power nap?

“A power nap is like a battery recharge in the middle of the day,” says Chandigarh-based Nayamat Bawa, head psychologist at Iwill and Epsyclinic. “Ideally, it should be for 20 to 30 minutes so that it refreshes you but does not leave you feeling groggy. With a post-lunch power nap, you will be sorted for the second half of the day at work. A power nap rejuvenates the brain neurons which helps you concentrate better, makes you more focused, restores wakefulness and enhances memory. With a power nap, you can completely eliminate any sort of physical and mental fatigue.”

Why do you need a power nap?

For 28-year-old Lalit (surname withheld on request), who worked long hours in the sales department of an MNC, the work was stressful and he was constantly grappling with numbers. His high-stress life, with the constant pressure of targets and deadlines, led him to seek professional help for his anxiety and fatigues issues. In therapy sessions, he would often talk about how he never had enough energy and how the end of the day saw him totally fatigued, without the will to have any kind of social interaction. This was affecting his interpersonal relationships at work and also the one with his girlfriend. The brunt of his irritability was borne by his parents since he would be very snappy.

How to catch forty winks

When his counsellor suggested he try to make time for a power nap post-lunch, Lalit initially thought it would be impossible, given his open-plan office and small workstation in the middle of a well-lit space. “But I managed to find a cosy nook in one corner of the office and used the bulk of my lunch hour to take a nap,” says Lalit. “I got noise-cancelling headphones and an eye mask. My counsellor told me to put my phone on airplane mode. And I got started. Initially it was very difficult to shrug off all work-related thoughts and disengage my mind in the middle of office. But after a few days, I did manage to train myself to completely relax and take a short power nap.” 

How to get a power nap

Step 1: Find the best time of day for the power nap. Pick a time that is not too early or too late. Ideal time is post-lunch. 

Step 2: Find the best place to catch forty winks. If you are in an office, try to get an eye mask and either invest in white noise headphones or play some appropriate music (or even ocean or bird sounds) on your regular earphones or headphones. Switch off your devices. 

Step 3: Find the perfect balance of duration. No less than 20 minutes and no more than 30 minutes is the ideal duration of the power nap. While too little will not be of much help, too much will leave you feeling sluggish and impact the quality of your night sleep. Sleeping for 20 minutes allows the individual to get a light sleep for maximum benefit without entering into deep sleep. Any more will take you to deep sleep and lead to sleep inertia, affecting efficiency and defeating the purpose of the nap. It will also affect the quality of the night-time sleep.

In Lalit’s case, the results were there for everyone to see. He felt more energised and less irritable. “The 20-min power nap with a complete digital power-off proved to be a game changer for me,” he says. “My quality of life has improved manifold.”

He has been on the power-nap therapy for about six months now.

Day-time sleepiness

Dr Amit Kunar Mandal, director, pulmonology, sleep & critical care, Fortis Hospital, Mohali, Punjab, explains why we need a nap in the middle of the day. “By the time we hit the middle of the day, we reach the midday slump,” he says. “If we have had a late night the day before, or if we are running on sleep deficit, we tend to feel sluggish towards midday, especially after lunch. At this time, a short nap can help us by putting us in a better mood, improve our focus, concentration and alertness. By overcoming daytime fatigue, we can also perform better, our reaction time will be better while driving or working with heavy machinery. A nap also helps improve our short-term memory.”

The ideal time, according to him, is to nap around lunchtime – pre- or immediately post-lunch. “Post-lunch is perhaps the best time as this period is associated with reduced alertness and productivity,” he says.

Sleep hormones

Dr Mandal says that guided by our circadian rhythm, we sleep at night to allow our body and mind to recharge and refresh itself. “A healthy adult needs seven to nine hours of night sleep,” he says. “This sleep-wake homeostasis is linked to adenosine (an organic compound produced in the brain), which increases throughout the day. Cortisol, a hormone, is produced in the morning as the sun rises. This promotes energy and alertness. Melatonin, another hormone, induces drowsiness as it is released in our body as natural light diminishes in the evening. This is our circadian rhythm. When this is disturbed because of medical conditions or medications or lifestyle reasons, it leads to sleep deprivation.”

Why top CEOs swear by the power nap

Dr Mandal lists the benefits of power naps:

  • Reduces fatigue and can be restorative
  • Counteracts daytime drowsiness after insufficient sleep
  • Beneficial for shift workers or those jumping time zones who may be struggling to get enough sleep
  • Boosts workplace performance – improves cognitive functions such as memory, logical reasoning and the ability to complete complex tasks
  • Reduces stress

However, he stresses that a power nap during the day is not an instant solution for those who are chronically sleep-deprived, chronic insomniacs or those who suffer from medical problems like sleep apnea.

Napping for the heart: aye or nay?

Researchers looking at the benefits of power naps found that a nap in the afternoon can benefit the heart and reduce blood pressure too. “But only in individuals who nap once or twice a week,” says Dr Mandal. “No association was found in individuals with more nap frequency. In fact, there are studies that suggest that there was increased mortality risks with nap times of more than 30 minutes.”

Power naps for athletes

“A version of the power nap can be extremely helpful for athletes too,” says Dr Mandal. “A nap at the right time for them can impact their physical functioning as it improves endurance, reaction time and cognitive performance.” Not to mention the positive impact on the attitude of the athlete when he or she is well-rested.

Disco naps

It is not just toddlers, athletes, CEOs and shift workers who can benefit from a nap. Partygoers can literally burn the candle at both ends with a disco nap. The term became popular in the 1970s for the short, rejuvenating naps taken by socialites before going out to help them enjoy late-night parties without letting fatigue show on their faces.

When your boss lets you sleep on the job

Some corporates and new-age workplaces are on board with the concept of naps improving productivity and have introduced nap rooms in the offices. Japan leads the way in recognising this. Space-tech-inspired sleeping pods are available in some offices. Google and Facebook are among those offering their employees a comfortable place to literally sleep on the job.

Dr Mandal, however, points to the biggest drawback: sustaining efficiency and regulating nap times.  “It would ultimately depend on the individual organisation to decide on the acceptability of nap time for its employees,” he says.

Now, that’s an idea for corporates to sleep on.

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