A third of Americans don’t get enough sleep, leading to irritability, distractedness, and sloppiness — none of which help with productivity. Even the well-rested typically experience an energy dip between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. But there’s hope: Research shows a power nap can make your brain effective again.
And the perfect length is just 10 minutes.
By having such a short nap — suitable for a one-person “meeting” you book for yourself in the nearest conference room — you’re able to avoid sleep inertia, that groggy feeling you get upon waking from deep sleep.
This is because sleep happens in two main cycles: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. As the Wall Street Journal reports, NREM itself has two parts: a light sleep and slow-wave sleep, which is the deepest kind of sleep. Then there’s REM, where you do most of your dreaming.
The key to the power nap, then, is to sidestep slow-wave and REM sleep, both of which lead to sleep inertia. Take note: If you’re dreaming during that 10-minute session, you’ve immediately fallen into REM sleep, a sign that you’re not getting enough sleep at night, so you should get more.
But in most cases, you’ll wake from a 10-minute nap feeling crisp and refreshed, rather than all sleepy-drunk, research finds.
In a 2006 study by psychologist Leon Lack of Flinders University in Australia, 24 participants were asked to take naps ranging from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. Upon awaking, each person was given a range of mental processing tasks.
The 10-minute nappers had the quickest wits. Their alertness was apparent “right away,” Lack tells the Journal, and the benefits of the nap continued for at least the next two hours. On the other hand, the 20- and 30-minute nappers were groggy for at least half an hour upon waking.
Whether you decide to power nap at your desk, in a conference room, in a parked car, or lying on a couch, the key is to sit slightly upright. Then you can avoid deep sleep and spring back into action.
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