How to Power Nap

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Whether you're nodding off during the afternoon slump at the office, working a double or a night shift, or fighting drowsiness while driving, a power nap can make you more alert and productive[1] but only if you do it correctly. Scientists have been studying the power nap--when to take it, how to take it, what to take before you take it, and so on; their findings suggest that the following steps will help you get the most power out of a power nap.


Find a good place to nap.

  • Napping at work - A survey by the National Sleep Foundation found that about 30% of people are allowed to sleep at work, and some employers even provide a place for employees to nap.[2] If your place of employment isn't nap-friendly, you can take a power nap in your car.
  • Napping on the road - If you're driving, find a rest area to park in. Don't park on the shoulder. Always turn off the car and put on the emergency brake. If it's nighttime, park in a well-lit area with plenty of people around and lock all of your doors.
  • Turn off your mobile phone and any other potential distractions. If background noise is unavoidable and distracting, or if you suffer from tinnitus, putting on headphones with relaxing music may help.
  • If you're sleeping during the day and find that bright light inhibits your ability to sleep, wear sunglasses or use an eye mask to simulate darkness.

Have caffeine right before you nap.

This may sound counterintuitive since caffeine is a stimulant, but it won't kick in immediately. The caffeine has to travel through your gastro-intestinal tract, giving you time to nap before it kicks in. Taking a "caffeine nap" in which 200mg of caffeine are consumed right before a 20-minute nap will not only improve your performance, but it'll also lessen how sleepy you feel once you wake up.[3] Skip the caffeine, however, if it's late in the afternoon--you'll have a hard time falling asleep later--or if you're trying to quit caffeine.

When you're close to finishing your coffee (or your green tea, or your caffeine jello shot, etc.), set an alarm to go off in 15 minutes. If you're one of those people who has a habit of pressing the "snooze" button and going right back to sleep, put your alarm across the room so that you have to get up to turn it off. Immediately after consuming the caffeine, close your eyes and relax.

  • Even if you can't sleep, close your eyes and meditate. You might not be used to napping, but if you incorporate short bouts of sleep into a daily routine (taking a nap every day after lunch, for example) you can "train" your body to expect a nap during that time and you'll have an easier time falling asleep.[4]
  • What you're doing during a power nap is capturing the benefits of the first two of the five stages in the sleep cycle. These first two stages take place in the first twenty minutes. In addition to making you feel more rested and alert, the electrical signals in your nervous system strengthen the connection between neurons involved in muscle memory, making your brain work faster and more accurately.[5]
  • After 15 minutes, not only will your alarm go off, but caffeine will also kick in and help since it blocks adenosine, the neurotransmitter that promotes fatigue.

Get up as soon as the alarm goes off. Sleeping for any longer than 20 minutes will be counterproductive. A half hour can lead to sleep inertia, making you feel sluggish and more tired than ever.[6]

  • Follow up with physical activity. Get your blood flowing with a few jumping jacks or push-ups, or a little bit of jogging in place.
  • Washing your face and exposing yourself to bright light (e.g. sunlight) can help you feel more awake as well.[3]


  • Remember that a power nap makes you more productive. Some people are reluctant to nap because it seems "lazy" but if that was the case, why would successful executives and athletes be power napping? Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison were power nappers, as well.


  • A power nap can only help so much. If you're sleep-deprived, you need to make up for your sleep deficit before you can realize the full benefits of power napping.

Sources and Citations

  1. The effects of a 20 min nap in the mid-afternoon on mood, performance and EEG activity. Clin Neurophysiol. 2003 Dec;114(12):2268-78.
  2. http://redeye.chicagotribune.com/red-072208-nap-main,0,2745098.story
  3. 3.0 3.1 The alerting effects of caffeine, bright light and face washing after a short daytime nap. Clin Neurophysiol. 2003 Dec;114(12):2268-78.

  4. http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/power-of-napping-feature?page=3

  5. http://www.mensjournal.com/healthFitness/0601/napping_power.html

  6. http://redeye.chicagotribune.com/red-072208-nap-main,0,2745098.story

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