Thomas Edison, Kanye West and Eleanor Roosevelt All Took Power Naps. Should You?
Salvador Dali took power naps.
Winston Churchill took power naps.
Even Kim Kardashian and Kanye West take power naps.
I don’t know (I never got a chance to ask them personally).
But if they’re like almost everyone else in the world, they got tired and felt a lull in the middle of the day. Sound familiar?
It turns out human beings slow down in the early afternoon.
But research has shown you can beat this tiredness with… *drum roll*… a power nap!
What is a power nap and why is it awesome?
A power nap is a short sleep, usually under 30 minutes, with the goal to refresh and re-energize your body and mind.
Studies show even 6 minutes of shut-eye can be beneficial. Yes, even 6 minutes.
You might think there’s no way you’ll fall asleep that fast! It doesn’t matter. Even just shutting your eyes and relaxing gives great benefits.
A groundbreaking NASA study from 1995 (pdf) looked at the beneficial effects of napping on 747 pilots. Each participant was allowed to nap for 40 minutes during the day, sleeping on average for 25.8 minutes. Nappers “demonstrated vigilant performance improvements from 16% in median reaction time to 34% in lapses compared to the No-Rest Group.”
NASA isn’t alone in their findings. There’s plenty more evidence, including a recent UC Berkeley sleep study:
“At 2 p.m., the nap group took a 90-minute siesta while the no-nap group stayed awake. Later that day, at 6 p.m., participants performed a new round of learning exercises. Those who remained awake throughout the day became worse at learning. In contrast, those who napped did markedly better and improved in their capacity to learn.”
How long should you nap for?
WHAT’S THE MAGIC NUMBER?! Is it 6 minutes? 25 minutes? 8 minutes and 23 seconds?
The truth is there is huge variability from person to person, and you’ll need to try and test different lengths of naps to see what works best for you. I would recommend starting with 20 minutes, and testing shorter and longer lengths depending on how you feel.
Whatever you do, try not to nap for so long that you fall into deep sleep (for many people this will happen after 30–60 minutes). Trying to wake up while you are in the later stages of your sleep cycle will generally cause you to feel groggy.
There is an exception: many high performance athletes, like NBA players, take a 90-minute power nap in between their training sessions to enhance motor memory and encourage muscle recovery. 90 minutes is usually enough time to complete an entire sleep cycle, so you don’t end up waking in deep sleep (want more info on how your sleep cycle works? Click here to read about it).
When is the best time to take a power nap?
The effectiveness of a power nap can be closely related to the time when the power nap takes place.
Keep a regular nap schedule. Prime napping time generally falls in the middle of the day, between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. says Sara C. Mednick, Ph.D., sleep expert in her book “Take a Nap! Change Your Life.” Her 17 minute TED Talk on the subject is definitely worth a watch.
Planned naps have been shown to improve alertness and performance in emergency department physicians and nurses, along with first-year medical students.
Thankfully, businesses are starting to catch on. Modern companies are increasingly creating sleep spaces while providing an encouraging, supportive environment and setting up the right equipment for napping on the job.
CEO Christopher Lindholst of MetroNaps has installed customized sleeping pods for Google, Huffington Post, the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team, and many others.
Can’t nap? There’s an app for that
People often tell me they “can’t nap.” They say that, when they close their eyes, their mind races a mile a minute.
As with so many things, there’s an app for that! In fact, dozens and dozens to choose from.
I would personally give Pzizz a try; it has special soothing soundscapes that are specifically designed to put you to sleep and wake you up refreshed (disclaimer: I’m one of the founders of Pzizz, so of course I think its awesome).
How famous historical figures used the power of napping
Winston Churchill napped for at least an hour every day, a habit which he believed lead to his success in leading Britain through World War II. In the first volume of his memoir The Second World War, Churchill wrote: “Nature had not intended mankind to work from 8 in the morning until midnight without the refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts 20 minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.’’ Mess with Churchill’s napping schedule at your own peril.
Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, worked tirelessly and got only four hours of sleep each night. However, to make up for the lack of sleep, Thatcher famously ordered her aides not to disturb her between 2.30 and 3.30pm so she could power nap.
Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, only slept three or four hours at night, regarding sleep as a waste of time, “a heritage from our cave days.” While he touted the belief that he needed no more than four or five hours of sleep at night (and no one else did either), he was often caught napping in unusual locations throughout his property. Even Edison couldn’t truly escape from the sandman.
Leonardo da Vinci, the Renaissance artist and inventor, was probably the most extreme napper of them all. Instead of getting eight hours of sleep every night, he napped fifteen minutes every four hours, for a total of one and a half hours of sleep every day. While this seems to have worked for the Renaissance genius, this Uberman-esque sleep regimen is probably best left for the history books for most people.
What are you waiting for, just try it!
It’s free and healthy. So the next time you’re tired in the middle of the day find a comfortable spot and try it. Start with 20 minutes (set an alarm). Close your eyes. Take a deep breadth… relax. Clear your mind. Enjoy :)