The Power of Napping for Better Productivity

Let’s take a look at the best protocol for an effective nap, the potential drawbacks, and alternatives for rest and recovery throughout your day.

5 min read

Health & Wellness

The Power of Napping for Better Productivity

Let’s face it, we could all use some extra help getting through the midday slump. But could naps be the answer? One study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that people aged 65 and older who took afternoon naps 30-90 minutes in length were better able to recall words and draw figures than those who did not nap.(1)

So, is napping the answer to your fatigue? Well… it depends. Let’s take a look at the best protocol for an effective nap, the potential drawbacks, and alternatives for rest and recovery throughout your day.

 

Getting It Right

When it comes to the perfect “power nap”, timing is key- both when it happens and for how long. Keep these key factors in mind when determining if a short snooze is the right move for you.

 

Duration

If you are short on time, thankfully there are notable benefits to taking brief, 5-15 minute naps. One study found that naps of shorter duration led to reduced sleepiness and improved focus for 1-3 hours following the nap.

Nap durations beyond 30 minutes put you at an increased risk of sleep inertia – a sensation that results in grogginess upon waking. However, despite an initial feeling of drowsiness, levels of cognitive function remain elevated for several hours after waking.(2) Aim to limit your nap length to less than 90 minutes (the length of a complete sleep cycle) as sleep inertia is markedly elevated at this point and beyond.(3)

 

Time of Day

Current research suggests that a prime time to nap is midafternoon around 1:00-3:00 PM, when energy levels take a natural dip.(4) Taking a nap after the hours of 3:00 PM can interfere with one's ability to fall asleep at their usual bedtime and stay asleep through the night.(5)

 

Negatives of Napping

While napping undoubtedly has its benefits when you time it right, it’s not for everyone. As mentioned earlier, sleep inertia and feeling more tired than you did before the nap is the most immediate negative side effect. This can be minimized by taking shorter naps or engaging in other methods of rest and mindfulness.

Another drawback is that for some, napping during the day can bring about restless nights. A contributing factor to this is that naps that are too long and too close to bedtime can throw off the body’s circadian rhythm. This can be problematic as your circadian rhythm is what dictates the release of various hormones throughout the day to make you alert in the morning and tired at night for slumber.(6) Everyone’s circadian rhythm is different and thus will be uniquely impacted by various napping techniques.(7) If you find yourself struggling to fall asleep at night after napping earlier in the day, you are likely a prime candidate for a napping alternative.

 

Napping Alternatives: Non-sleep Deep Rest (NSDR) and Meditation

“Non-sleep deep rest” is a term coined by Standford professor, neuroscientist, and podcast host Dr. Andrew Huberman. Inspired by the principles of Yoga Nidra, NSDR uses breathwork, visualization, and attention exercises to regulate your nervous system. This works by activating your parasympathetic nervous system responsible for the “rest and digest” response while disengaging your sympathetic, “fight or flight” nervous system response. NSDR can be done laying down or seated, and videos of guided practices can be found online. Further research is needed to compare the benefits of NSDR with a traditional nap.(8)

Meditation is similar to NSDR in that it can also help reduce stress levels, increase awareness, and improve overall mood.(9) There are a plethora of techniques and methodologies for meditation, but ultimately the best option is the one that you will be able to stick with consistently.

 

Wrapping It All Up

As with many aspects of health and wellness, ultimately you will need to find what works best for you with napping and other methods of rest. Weigh the pros and cons for yourself, and if you do choose to nap, be sure to pay attention to how the time of day and duration of the nap impacts your functionality through the remainder of the day.

 

1. Li, J., Cacchione, P. Z., Hodgson, N., Riegel, B., Keenan, B. T., Scharf, M. T., Richards, K., & Gooneratne, N. S. (2016). Afternoon Napping and Cognition in Chinese Older Adults: Findings from the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study Baseline Assessment. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 65(2), 373–380. https://doi.org/10.1111/jgs.14368. Accessed 10 May 2024.
2. Lovato, N., & Lack, L. (2010). The effects of napping on cognitive functioning. In Progress in brain research (pp. 155–166). https://doi.org/10.1016/b978-0-444-53702-7.00009-9. Accessed 10 May 2024.
3. Should you take power naps? Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/power-naps. Accessed 10 May 2024.
4. Bilodeau, K. (2023, September 22). Is your daily nap doing more harm than good? Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/is-your-daily-nap-doing-more-harm-than-good. Accessed 10 May 2024.
5. Napping: Do’s and don’ts for healthy adults. (2022, November 9). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/napping/art-20048319#:~:text=The%20longer%20you%20nap%2C%20the,can%20interfere%20with%20nighttime%20sleep. Accessed 10 May 2024.
6. National Institute of General Medical Sciences. (n.d.). National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). https://www.nigms.nih.gov/education/fact-sheets/Pages/circadian-rhythms.aspx#:~:text=Circadian%20rhythms%20are%20the%20physical,and%20temperature%20also%20affect%20them. Accessed 10 May 2024.
7. News-Medical. (2021, May 3). Circadian rhythm length variations - Early birds and night owls. https://www.news-medical.net/health/Circadian-rhythm-length-variations-early-birds-and-night-owls.aspx#:~:text=Circadian%20rhythms%20vary%20between%20individuals,to%20reset%20the%20biological%20clocks. Accessed 10 May 2024.
8. Summer, J., & Peters, B. (2024, February 26). What is Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR)? Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/meditation-for-sleep/what-is-non-sleep-deep-rest. Accessed 10 May 2024.
9. Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress. (2023, December 14). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/meditation/in-depth/meditation/art-20045858. Accessed 10 May 2024.

 

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