I’m convinced power napping is the key to my productivity — and there’s research to back me up

  • When my eyes start to cross, and I can’t think straight at work, I take a power nap of about 15 minutes.
  • Research has shown that short naps can improve your ability to remember, reason, and learn.

What do you do when you can’t keep your eyes open in an afternoon meeting, or you just want to put your head on your desk?

If you’re like nearly two-thirds of American adults, you reach for a cup of coffee. But studies have shown there’s something even more effective for memory and motor function: taking a nap.

I don’t like caffeinated drinks, so if I start to fade after lunch, the one thing I do to counteract the fatigue is take a 15-minute power nap. When I get up, my brain is fresh and ready to spring into action.

The power of sleep

Scientists don’t know why humans need to sleep, but there are several theories. The plasticity of the brain (which allows you to learn) seems to improve during sleep. Losing sleep certainly can limit your brain functioning, according to Time.

Your body also apparently repairs itself during sleep. Studies show that the immune system replenishes T cells during sleep, which might explain why lack of sleep can make you sick.

What researchers do know is that Americans don’t sleep enough. The Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep for adults. Gallup found that, in 2013 (the last year it measured), Americans slept an average of only 6.8 hours a night, down from 7.9 hours in 1942. So, it’s no wonder we hit bottom by mid-afternoon – a sensation which a power nap can counteract.

How to nap

As Daniel Pink explains in his book, “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing,” a short nap acts like a Zamboni on your brain. As the day goes on, your brain glitches up. A short nap smooths the glitches, so you can function for the rest of the day.

I like to nap for 10 to 15 minutes at work (as I work from home). Any longer, and I feel sluggish and have a hard time getting up. I put in headphones and listen to a mellow podcast, to keep my mind from spinning on my next task. I set a timer and put on an eye mask.

When my time is up, I find I can get right back to work with renewed focus. One power nap is usually enough to get me through the rest of the afternoon. If I’m tired enough that I need two naps, I’m probably getting sick and shouldn’t be working.

The best way to take a power nap is subjective. The Mayo Clinic recommends anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Author Daniel Pink has a power nap hack: drink a cup of coffee, nap for 25 minutes (the amount of time it takes for the caffeine to hit), then get up doubly refreshed.

Where to nap

The more difficult issue for most people is where to nap at work. If you work from home or your own office, like I do, it’s pretty easy.

If you work in a more open space that you share with coworkers, finding a place to nap can be much harder. You run the risk that, if your boss finds you curled up under your desk or snoozing in your car, she’ll think you’re slacking.

The good news is that employers have begun to recognise the restorative potential of the power nap. Some even have nap rooms for their employees. And you now have multiple choices of odd little tents to deploy at work – if you can sleep through your coworker’s laughter.