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For many people, napping may seem like a luxury, but sleep experts say the practice can offer a wide variety of benefits, including fatigue reduction, improved mood, and better memory. A power nap is a shortened version of a nap, usually lasting between ten and 30 minutes. Unlike longer midday rests, people who power nap don’t usually experience a feeling of grogginess when they wake up. The primary difference between power napping and regular napping is that a power nap ends before deep sleep begins.

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Sleep Stages

Power naps are short bursts of sleep that involve the first two stages of non-REM sleep. Stage 1 lasts several minutes and features light sleep. It is the transition from being awake to falling asleep. During this stage, a person’s heartbeat, eye movements, and breathing slow down. The muscles relax, but there may be occasional twitches. Stage 2 is a transition of entering a deeper sleep. The heartbeat slows even more, eye movements cease, and body temperature drops. Brain activity also slows down, though there are brief bursts of electrical activity.

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Importance of Nap Times and Duration

Generally, power naps should take place between 1 and 3 p.m., when there’s an increase of melatonin in the body. They should last between 20 and 30 minutes, with 20-minute naps being optimal. If an individual sleeps more than that amount of time, the body shifts into slow-wave sleep, or full-sleep mode. Studies link power nap benefits to the first two stages of non-REM sleep. However, if the individual sleeps past the 30 minutes and then wakes during the third sleep cycle, they lose these benefits. They may experience fatigue, disorientation, and grogginess -- symptoms of sleep inertia. By controlling the time spent napping, an individual ensures they get the benefits of a power nap.

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Work and Academic Benefits

According to a variety of sleep studies, power naps increase alertness, enhance performance, sharpen learning abilities, and improve verbal memory and motor skills. They maximize the benefits of sleep but do so in a much shorter amount of time. A German study found that after only six minutes of sleep, individuals achieved higher levels of memory recall. A Harvard University study showed that napping midday prevents information overload as well. Several companies and universities now recognize the benefits of a quick-charge power nap for employees and students and provide designated spaces for them.

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Other Health Benefits

Studies show that napping has a variety of other physiological benefits. A 10-minute power nap improves cognitive function and alertness even if the individual is getting a full night’s sleep as well. During sleep, more cerebrospinal fluid flows through the brain, removing harmful waste proteins such as amyloid beta. This is partially what allows power naps to improve cognitive function. Power naps also boost immune function. Other health benefits include stress reduction and a lower risk of heart disease.

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Signs That the Body Needs a Nap

The body is an efficient machine and usually provides clues when it’s not functioning as it should. Specific signals such as fatigue indicate a person needs sleep in the middle of the day, even if they recently received a full night’s sleep. If a person notices that the ability to process information is taking longer than it did earlier in the day, a power nap will likely help. Frequent daydreaming or the feeling of being in a fog are other signs that an individual needs a power nap lest productivity continue to decrease.

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Power Naps vs. Stimulants

Stimulants may provide the energy to focus on daily tasks or work and push us through the times of day when drowsiness intrudes. Too many stimulants can interfere with the body’s internal clock and cause sleep disturbances. Caffeine takes about 15 minutes to kick in and stays in the system for about six hours. This stimulant alters brain chemistry, sending the message that the body isn’t tired. Power naps allow a brain reboot instead of trying to trick the brain into staying awake. However, some sleep experts suggest having a bit of caffeine just before a power nap so you feel the effects of the caffeine when you wake.

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What is Sleep Debt?

The average adult needs between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. However, most people fall short of that requirement. Sleep debt is the effect of not getting enough sleep over multiple nights. It can lead to physical and mental fatigue, mood disorders, and chronic disease. According to a 1997 study, people who sleep six hours per night for ten days show the same effects of sleep deprivation as those who do not sleep for a full 24 hours. Individuals who work night shifts are at greater risks for sleep debt. Sleeping in and long naps may interfere with sleep schedules. A 20-minute power nap is rejuvenating and doesn’t interfere with normal sleep patterns.

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Incorporating Power Naps into a Schedule

The best time for power naps is one to two hours after lunch when blood sugar and energy levels decrease. Napping after 3 p.m. can interfere with nighttime sleep schedules. Stick to the best power nap hours, between 1 and 3 p.m. Adding power naps to a daily routine is beneficial. Some sleep experts suggest individuals base nap times on their chronotype, a person’s natural inclination for sleeping. For early risers, it’s usually best to nap between 1 and 1:30 p.m., while night owls should try for later, between 2:30 and 3 p.m. or later, about six to seven hours after waking.

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Creating a Nap Environment

Dark, quiet places that are a comfortable temperature--between 65 and 70 degrees--are the best power nap environments. A sleep mask can block out any light. Studies show that aromatherapy not only improves sleep but also decreases the amount of time it takes an individual to wake up. Many people find that a consistent noise level is relaxing and aids sleep, so white noise apps may help. Napping in a lying down position usually works best, on furniture that most closely resembles a bed. An alarm set for no longer than 30 minutes ensures the individual isn’t oversleeping.

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Power Napping May Not Work for Everyone

The need to sleep during the day can be an indication of stress, insomnia, sleep apnea, or another sleep disturbance. Although naps are beneficial to most people, genetics can make them less useful for some. For people diagnosed with depression, napping may cause symptoms to worsen. Others may fall into a deep sleep, and when they wake up, they feel more fatigued and sleepy than they did before the nap. For those who have insomnia, power napping could make the condition worse. Speak with a medical professional about any ongoing sleep issues and sleep deprivation.

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.