The benefits of power naps
What a difference a nap makes!
We've all been there. It's 2:30 p.m., the meeting drones on, you would do serious damage for coffee and some cookies but mostly you're fighting to keep from drifting off to sleep. Or you've dropped the kids at soccer practice, wolfed down your power bar, and should be on the way to picking up things for dinner but what you really want to do is close your eyes.
What's the matter? Is your hard-driving, can-do work personality burning out? Are you younger than the mirror shows? No, the diagnosis is much simpler: you need a nap! Once thought to be the province of small children and senior citizens, naps are becoming the proud possession of powerful executives and active super-moms. What was once thought a weakness is now a strength—keep up if you can!
It's called a "power nap" and recent studies recommend taking one as part of your daily routine. Dr. Sara Mednick at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies outlines what is known about sleep in general and power naps in particular.
Why Take a Power Nap?
Sleep is a daily need, aiding cell repair, memory and hormonal functioning. Anyone short a night's sleep can list the bodily, mental, and emotional elements that work less well: physical coordination (including reactions while driving); memory and judgment; energy level; patience; and general stress-tolerance.
A power nap of 15 to 20 minutes surprisingly can bring all those functions back to or much closer to normal functioning than we might imagine. Full sleep-cycles, including settling the body and mind for sleep, going deeply to sleep, and the final dreaming stage, apparently recur during a night's sleep in 90 to 120 minute cycles.
Power naps are planned to take advantage of the first two stages--relaxation and refreshing light sleep. The benefits of power naps can actually be damaged by sleeping longer because waking after the body has gone into deep sleep can make a person wake up feeling fuzzy and still tired.
How to Take a Power Nap
There is, however, a difference between understanding the benefits of power naps and figuring out how to work one into our schedule. Some workplaces just do not permit retreating into a nap, and naps are still regarded as a sign of weakness. Entering an office only to find the receptionist asleep does not inspire confidence in the rest of the work force! In that case, taking a power nap may be restricted to a lunch-break or afternoon coffee-break.
In other cases, while sleeping on the job is not encouraged, employers may be willing to provide space for quiet retreat on breaks. In major cities, power-napping has acquired the status of a business. According to the Men's Journal, MetroNaps in New York City provides quiet space for busy executives to nap for a fee; the model of a lunch hour gym or spa visit has translated into a sleep-fix facility.
Making it Work for You
For those managing power naps on their own, here are several suggestions:
- Find a way to block environmental noise. If your office has a door, close it. Consider headphones that provide only quiet; they are increasingly becoming a part of frequent-flying survival kits.
- Consider headphones that will let you listen to a relaxation or meditation tape if outright sleep seems impossible.
- Purchase a small alarm clock or a watch with an alarm feature; one of the biggest fears related to daytime napping is the fear of not waking up on schedule. Even some computers have an alarm feature. A colleague may be glad to trade waking you up for the same favor in return.
- Consider accessories that will enhance relaxation: a neck-pillow, like the ones used by car passengers; a sweater or scarf, to keep you from becoming chilled while relaxed; even soft slippers are a possibility.
Once you've figured out how to restore yourself with a power nap, you will reap many benefits. You'll have more patience—even your most aggravating colleagues will seem more manageable. For women especially, less stress-eating is a benefit. Taking a power nap is not a weight-loss plan, but you may well find it helps you control the afternoon munchies. And you'll have a feeling that the world, which seemed out of control twenty minutes ago, is once again a reasonable place. The big benefits of power naps are well worth pursuing. Sleep tight!