It is what used to be called a catnap. The term power nap
was apparently coined by Cornell University social psychologist
James Maas. Basically it is a short nap that is designed to refresh
you. What does the research say?
According to Dr. Sara Mednick, at the Salk Institute for Biological
Studies, napping benefits cell repair, heart function, and hormonal
maintenance. A power nap maximizes these benefits, by getting
the rejuvenative effects in as short a time as possible. The
brain benefits as well. A study done by NASA found that although
naps don't aid alertness, they do improve memory functions.
Recent research also demonstrates that power naps can boost
productivity, lower stress, and improve learning and mood (no
surprise there). Looking at the MRIs of nappers, researchers
at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies found that with
a nap, brain activity stays high throughout the day. However,
skip the nap, and brain activity declines later in the day.
Who Uses Power Naps?
Many busy executives who are deficient on regular night time
sleep make time for short naps during the day. When Steve Fossett
made his record 67-hour flight around-the-world alone in his
jet, he took a couple dozen two-to-three minute naps as his only
sleep, and claims that he awoke refreshed. When Lance Armstrong
was training for the tour-de-france bicycle race, naps were an
important part of his routine. In Iraq, U.S. Marines are instructed
to take a power nap before going on patrol.
Your sleep normally comes in several stages. A power nap is
aimed at achieving the first two stages. These are the falling-asleep
stage of relaxation and slower respiration, and the second stage
of light restful sleep. Since the first stage takes about ten
minutes, and the second can last for about ten to twenty minutes,
many people consider 20 minutes the ideal length for a power
This issue of length is open to debate, though. It seems likely
that the ideal time varies for individuals. Your own ideal nap
length is probably best discovered through experimentation. The
primary point here is that if you sleep too long, you get what
is called "sleep inertia."
Sleep inertia is when you feel heavy, it is hard to focus,
and your mind is sluggish. This is essentially the winding down
of activity in the brain's prefrontal cortex. Nap too long, and
it can take thirty minutes or more to "reboot."
A Powerful Napping Routine
Here is a two-step routine for power napping taken from research
done at the Loughborough University in the UK.
1. Relax and drink a cup of coffee.
2. Close your eyes and let yourself fall asleep for 15 minutes.
The idea here is that your body takes time to process the
caffeine in the coffee. You get your nap or "micro-sleep"
in and the caffeine hits just as you are ready to wake up and
get back to work. The researchers used sleep deprived subjects,
who reported feeling very refreshed following this routine. It
seems likely that this kind of power nap will work for those
who are not as sleep deprived as well.
Some people have trouble falling asleep on short notice. Fifteen
minutes of relaxing and daydreaming may have its benefits, but
what if you really want that sleep time in your power nap? One
thing that works every time for me is brainwave entrainment CDs.
Listen to these (the good ones) and your brainwaves slow automatically,
putting you into meditative state or asleep in my case.
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