Power napping leads to peak performance

A power nap is a short sleep that terminates before the occurrence of deep sleep and is intended to quickly revitalise you.

A power nap is a short sleep that terminates before the occurrence of deep sleep and is intended to quickly revitalise you.

It may not always make you popular with your boss but a power nap in the middle of the day may well boost your brain power and if this were to happen, I don’t think there would be any complaints – particularly if your newly refreshed mind enabled you to work faster and more creatively!

Whilst many people will ridicule the idea of taking a snooze at lunchtime, many influential people have taken cat naps.  British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s afternoon nap was a non-negotiable part of his daily routine, and this was credited to giving him the stamina to work through the night until 4 a.m. during the Second World War.  US President John F Kennedy kept strictly to his routine of a 1–2 hour nap after lunch, and Margaret Thatcher famously maintained that she only needed ‘four hours to run the country’.

There is considerable research which shows that a power nap is beneficial in clearing the brain’s short-term memory to make room for new information – similar to defragging your hard-drive.  On a neuro-cognitive level, a short sleep can move you beyond where you were before you took a nap and many sleep researchers argue that being awake from early morning until late at night is actually detrimental to performance.

Sleeping on the job

Many companies are beginning to see the merit of power naps and are beginning to embrace this practice by actually encouraging their employees to add a midday snooze to their to-do lists.

It is recommended that a 20 minute nap in the afternoon after lunch is ideal for many executives.  A deep sleep is not recommended because you still want to remain alert for the rest of the day whilst a short nap will allow you to be more productive afterwards than you were before.  You may be able to find a room where you can be undisturbed by either email or phone.  Or if you are driving to a meeting, think about getting there early and allowing yourself a 15 minute nap in the car before setting your cellphone alarm to wake you up.

Common practice at work

Forward-thinking companies may actually provide sleeping pods where people can go and sleep.  These would be specially designed cubicles that offer comfort, privacy and quiet away from the frenetic pace of the business world.  Some airports have already introduced such accommodation units offering full side beds that offer a place to rest that is both convenient and comfortable.

Nap blockers

If you are going to take a nap, then be careful of stimulants.  A coffee at breakfast is fine but if you are planning a power nap after lunch then extra coffee mid-morning is probably not a good idea!

If you sleep lightly for 20 minutes, that will refresh the mind and you shouldn’t have a problem in feeling groggy when you wake up.  However, sleeping longer can take you into deeper stages of sleep from which it is more difficult to awaken.  That is the purpose of your much deeper sleep at night (with your Teddy Bear!).

Furthermore, if you are feeling anxious or irritable, then a cat nap can replenish serotonin levels in your brain and by reversing those feelings, create a more positive, mental outlook.  Higher levels of serotonin are also linked to lower stress levels, fewer mood swings and increased feelings of satisfaction and well-being while lower levels are liked to anxiety, depression and other negative emotions.

So try to tailor your power-naps to your own specific needs on any particular day because demands on your time and energies are always variable dependent upon your specific workload. The aim is to be able to work at optimum performance level for as long as possible during your working day. If you can achieve that for maybe 90% of the time, you’re doing really well!

I hope that companies will increasingly accept this idea and find ways of providing the right environment for napping to become acceptable in the workplace.  Power naps can be good for your health as well as keeping you performing optimally, so don’t feel guilty about taking one!

Key Points

  • A short nap of 15-20 min can re-energize you
  • Keep a watch on the amount of coffee or tea
  • Peak performance is good both for you and your employer