What is a Power Nap
A power nap is a 20- to 25-minute break that you take in the middle of your day. The target time is between 12 PM and 3 PM.
This consistently lines up with the “slump” that most of us experience. Most athletes try and solve this downtrend with sugar or caffeine. Instead of fighting your body, try listening to it for a change. If your attention is fading and your head is nodding, turn away from the fridge and turn towards the couch.
Here’s some information on how you can make the most of this small window to maximize your daily and athletic performance.
A 1995 study from NASA looked at how “strategic naps” might improve the performance of long-haul flight operations. The crew members were randomly divided into two groups. One was allowed a “40-minute nap opportunity” during flights while the other was not. The nap group participants slept for an average of nearly 26 minutes during each nap period. After the study, it was found that the nap group demonstrated a 16% improvement in median reaction times and a 34% improvement in performance lapses over the non-nap group.
Even if you’re not an astronaut, you can benefit from increased focus and better decision-making. Not to mention the other physiological benefits that come from rest.
Why Power Nap?
There are many different reasons why you should consider a power nap. See if you fit in one of the types below.
You Are Exhausted
You kick it 24/7. You like to do all the things! Do you want to be the best training but also at work and maybe even a family? The net result, 24 hours isn’t enough hours in the day. You run yourself ragged until you can’t run anymore and you crash with an epic night’s sleep. This is your attempt to “catch up” for all that missed rest. FYI that doesn’t really work!
You Are Unproductive
Almost every day you find yourself in the same position: sitting, staring at your computer screen and nothing is happening. Even if you’re able to get something done, later on, you go back and it doesn’t even look like something you would create. Your output quality has dropped significantly. If you were a widget, they would pull you off the factory floor and toss you into the waste bin! This is already effectively “dead time” because you’re not making use of it.
You Don’t Sleep Enough
The CDC recommends that adults get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep a night. You’re getting consistently less than that number, you have to find that time elsewhere. Sometimes life dictates that your start and end times of the day will not allow for enough sleep. If that’s the case, you need to get creative to find that time elsewhere. A power nap could be perfect for you.
You Make Bad Choices
The less you sleep, the more likely you are to overeat, crave junk food, and gain weight. A lack of sleep triggers your body‘s production of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite. It also lowers the levels of the hormone leptin, which signals that you are full. People who feel sluggish during the day are more likely to make poor food choices — especially if they’re looking for an energy boost!
Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, JFK, and even Leonardo da Vinci were advocates of taking naps!
What Days are Power Nap Days?
Even though you might not fit the profile of someone who consistently needs a nap, there are particular situations where taking a nap can be very useful.
A nap can help after a particularly difficult morning training session. Especially if that session starts earlier than normal, shortening your overnight rest. If you’ve got an early workout on the schedule for tomorrow, try to budget time for a nap in the middle of the day.
Post Big Training Session
This one often happens on its own! After a big training session, on the weekend, for example, athletes will often elevate their legs or use compression devices to facilitate the recovery process. After tough sessions, it’s very common for athletes to doze off as part of the recovery process. It might be the metronome-like sound of the recovery devices, but you’re also tired and in an almost horizontal position. Instead of fighting it, use the nap to your advantage and regain mental clarity as your body recovers.
Chances are you’ve seen other competitors before the big event laying down with her eyes closed. It’s hard to tell whether or not they are freaking out inside like you are, but they are gaining an advantage. Resting before a competition can have competitive benefits such as increasing your alertness and productivity. Even a short 15 to 20-minute break can help you re-center yourself before you enter the arena.
Peak Power Nap Recommendations
Find Your Sweet Spot
You should have access to a simple place where you can crash. Ideally, this isn’t your bedroom, as the surroundings and situational cues could lead to you oversleeping mid-day. Ideally, a couch or loveseat is the way to go.
Find a spot that’s a little out-of-the-way. This is easy if you have a home office or your own office for that matter. But if you work in a more dynamic or social environment it could be challenging. You are looking for a spot that is not too busy so you won’t be disturbed.
For temperature, too cool is better than too warm. Set your thermostat between 60 and 70 degrees to make falling asleep a little easier.
The Right Light
Darkness is key. You could get away with simply pulling a baseball hat over your eyes. If you need something stronger, look at installing some blackout curtains over your windows or start using an eye mask.
White Noise Please
This is a critical step. Blocking out all the notifications and background noises that become apparent when you pause. Headphones are fantastic for this, and there is plenty of natural sounds or white noise applications you can use. Bonus if you can find one that has an alarm function built in so you can get up at the right time!
Wind It Down
Most athletes naturally ease into a nap. Because we’re becoming tired over the course of the day! If this is something that you’re making more of a ritual, then you’ll want to make sure that that pre-nap window has significantly less technology time. If you’re in charge of your day, use this time before the nap to catch up on your reading or organization for the post-nap period.
Make It a Routine
OK, you’re just getting started with this. It is still worthwhile considering how you can make this a routine. Research has already shown that athletes benefit from this midday power nap, so the question is how can you turn this into a routine? Start by blocking it off in your calendar to create the space. Set expectations around the middle part of your day. Make sure you have on hand the minimal resources you need to be successful at napping (see above).
Bonus: The Caffeine Power Nap
Looking for that extra edge? Boost your post-nap productivity with a cup of coffee before you nap. Caffeine takes approximately 30 to 45 minutes to metabolize, which is the perfect window to transition to your nap. You’ll be able to rest for 20 minutes and emerge energized and ready to go!
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