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The science behind power napping and work productivity

Stephanie Hsu
productivity, sleep, performance

When was the last time you took a nap? If you’re over 6, odds are it’s been a while.

When we were kids, taking naps was usual. However, research by The Sleep Foundation reveals that by the age of 5, only 30% of children still nap daily. By the time we turn 6, that number drops to 10%. [1]

Of course, we require more sleep when we’re children to facilitate all the mental and physical growth that’s happening on a daily basis. 

According to Muse’s 2022 Brain Health Report, Americans ranked sleep as the fourth most important aspect of brain health.

With the increased importance of sleep as we grow, it makes sense that naps are a staple of our daily routine as children. As adults, our sleep needs decrease. It might seem easy to get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep each night. However, we know that often, this isn't the case

The Center for Disease Control reports that 1 in 3 American adults fails to get enough sleep each night. That’s a jaw-dropping 33% of the adult U.S. population struggling with chronic sleep deprivation, which aside from the fatigue also carries consequences for our health, relationships, and careers. [2]

Could naps be the solution to this sleep crisis? Let’s find out, and explore how the Muse S, the sleep headband, can enhance sleep quality.

The cost of poor sleep

Sleep is an essential process that’s been linked with memory consolidation, learning, and repairing daily wear and tear on the body. In other words — getting enough sleep helps us think and feel our best. 

Conversely, a lack of sleep does more than just make us feel tired. Consistently poor sleep can lead to:

  • Trouble making decisions
  • Reduced energy
  • Lower productivity
  • Less creativity and “out of the box” thinking
  • Less patience
  • Trouble communicating
  • Impaired memory recall
  • Slower reaction times
  • Worse mood

Over time, lack of sleep can affect more than just our daily experience, leading to a host of issues including [2]:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Increased mental distress
  • Can prompt or worsen anxiety or depression

Reduced quality and amount of sleep has also been linked with 7 out of 15 of the leading causes of death in the United States. [3]

productivity, sleep, performance

The current state of napping

While most western cultures shy away from and even look down on napping, the statistics suggest many adults take naps. Specifically, The Sleep Foundation found that just under ⅓ of American adults (30.5%) incorporate naps as part of their daily routine. [4]

However, in other cultures, napping is widely accepted and even integrated into daily life. For example, in Spain, they are famous for their siestas, during which work stops for an hour in the afternoon so that people can rest and recharge.

Siestas in Spain can be traced back to ancient Rome, where it was tradition to take a break at the sixth hour of every day. To this day many parts of Italy still carry this tradition, now referred to as riposo. [5]

However, the tradition of siestas is not limited to Spain and Italy. Many cultures close to the equator like Costa Rica, Nigeria, the Philippines, Greece, and Mexico, also have a type of siesta built into their days in order to give them a respite from the brutal midday heat. [5]

Of course, these cultural traditions have undergone changes in recent years as well. While the siesta was designed as a 1-3 hour period to rest and recharge, in today’s non-stop world many now use this time to get more done. In fact, a recent survey found that 58% of Spaniards don’t nap at all, with 18% identifying as frequent nappers (nap 4+ days/week). [5]

What is a power nap and how can it benefit me? Two options to consider…

A power nap is a brief period of sleep, taken during the day to help recharge and rejuvenate your energy levels. Unlike a full nap, which can last for hours and potentially disrupt nighttime sleep, a power nap is designed to provide a quick burst of rest without entering the deeper stages of sleep. The concept of a power nap is rooted in the idea that even a short period of shut-eye can offer significant cognitive and physical benefits.

Research has found there are numerous health benefits of power napping. 

Power naps offer a powerful approach for inching closer to that restorative 7-9 hours of sleep you need to feel your best every day.

Beyond that though, research has found that power naps may actually provide short-term benefits for cognitive functioning and boost our energy levels.

That being said, experts are divided between the best way to power nap: in short bursts of 20-30 minutes or in a longer stretch of 60-90 minutes.

20-30 minute power naps

Essentially, a traditional power nap is 20 minutes long. At just 20-30 minutes, these naps avoid later stages of deep sleep and REM in the sleep cycles. This can help bypass the risk of sleep inertia, where we wake up feeling groggy as our brains slowly exit delta-wave deep sleep states.

Experts suggest that 20-30 minute power naps can make us feel more alert, focused, energized, and productive.

Research on pilots found that taking a short 26-minute “NASA” nap improved alertness by 54% and performance by 34%[6]

A small study found that taking two 15-minute naps reduced tension and increased stress resilience amongst night shift workers. [8]

Another study published in 2015 found that taking two 30-minute naps (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) could help counteract the effects of sleep deprivation from the night before. They also found these naps provided a protective effect, with inflammatory activity levels dropping after naps compared to no naps. [7]

In other words — if you’re sleep deprived, taking power naps could help boost your immune system and make you more resilient to the effects of stress! [7]

60-90 minute power naps

While shorter power naps are associated with increased energy and alertness, longer naps of 60 to 90 minutes have been linked with increased creativity, greater problem-solving, increased neural connections, working memory, and more.

One study found that taking a 90 minute nap led to enhanced physical performance and attention and decreased perception of fatigue, negative mood, and muscle soreness among male athletes compared to napping for 45 minutes. [9]

A study published by UC Berkeley found that power naps of 60-90 minutes led to significant benefits for short-term memory and learning. [10]

Yet another study found that after taking a 60-minute nap, people had a greater tolerance for frustration and were less impulsive[11]

When is the best time to take a power nap?

The best time for a power nap is typically in the early afternoon, around 1 to 3 PM. This aligns with the natural dip in energy levels that many people experience after lunch. However, individual preferences and schedules may vary.

<< Explore How Meditation Could Help You Sleep >>

productivity, sleep, performance

How can power napping help me with work productivity?

The rests quickly refresh focus, combat midday fatigue, and improve decision-making. They also enhance problem-solving skills and memory, leading to better work performance. Power naps reduce stress, elevate mood, and provide a rapid energy boost, resulting in improved stamina and decision-making during the workday. Incorporating power naps as a supplementary strategy can elevate both in-office and remote work productivity without diminishing the value of a full night's sleep.

Getting started with power naps

If you’re looking to become a regular power napper, there’s a few things to consider.

  • Set an alarm. You don’t want to accidentally fall into a deep slumber and sleep the day away!
  • Find a comfortable place where you can relax. Make it easy on yourself to drift off quickly by finding a dark and quiet place where you don’t have to worry about anything other than breathing and relaxing.
  • Experiment with your sleep cycles. Although a full sleep cycle tends to be 90-minutes, the specific timing varies from person to person. Try taking naps of different lengths to see what makes you feel your best.
  • Can napping replace a night’s sleep? While napping can help to improve mood, alertness, and performance, it can't replace the need for a full night's sleep. Our well-being depends on experiencing various sleep stages at night, and consistently missing them can cause health problems. Daytime naps might seem helpful, but they don't match the benefits of full nighttime sleep. Short naps are lighter and lack the deep rest of a full night's sleep. [12]

Do you struggle with getting a good night’s sleep? We hear you.

By accurately tracking sleep stages, the Muse S headband enables individuals to gain valuable insights into their sleep patterns and lead to identifying potential sleep disorders. Detecting sleep problems early can lead to timely intervention and appropriate treatment, improving overall sleep quality and long-term health outcomes.

Using real-time neurofeedback, our Muse EEG headset monitors your brain states, and applies soothing sounds to lull you back to deep sleep. Start experiencing the rejuvenating effects of sleep like never before with Muse’s Digital Sleeping Pill.

<<Discover the latest research on how Muse S Headband revolutionizes sleep assessment at home>>

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