Cornell University social psychologist James Maas coined the phrase “power nap.” Just 15 or 20 minutes each day, sometimes twice a day if your day is long enough, will give you new-found energy. The reason for just 15 or 20 minutes is, any longer and it will make you groggy because your body will ultimately fall into deep sleep, and waking up during a deep sleep stage makes no sense.
The CDC says (if it isn’t sleep disturbances such as nightmares from the medication or leg spasms that go on and on and, yes, on), more than one third of us are sleeping less than the recommended 7 to 9 hours each night.
“The power nap is a godsend,” Dr. Maas added, sleep expert and past chair of the Psychology Department at Cornell University. “If you want to nap longer, make sure you have a solid 90 minutes. That’ll allow you to get through a full sleep cycle, so by the time you wake up, you’ll be back in the lighter stages of sleep and able to get up and actually feel refreshed.”
Dr. Rachel Salas, associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins, says, “Humans have a normal, natural dip, in our circadian rhythm, in the afternoon. That’s actually prime time to take a nap.” Especially that post-lunch energy crash, she adds.
Many experts say make the surroundings as dark as possible and use earplugs or even download a white noise app from your phone. Salas recommends an eye mask, too, because light can pass through the eyelids and still be disturbing your ability to take a nap.
The “coffee nap” has been talked about, too. The thinking is if you drink a cup of coffee, set your alarm for 15 or 20 minutes, and take a power nap, the coffee takes about 20 minutes for caffeine to absorb into the body and then you’re prepared to awake.
But Maas says, “Anybody with insomnia should never power nap, because it’s going to make it worse. If you’re having trouble going to sleep at night or have disruptive sleep where you’re waking up in the middle of the night, the first thing you have to look at is if you’ve been napping during day.”
That recommendation also applies to sleep apnea. “Even a short nap can be unrefreshing if the quality of the sleep is disrupted by apnea,” says Maas, who suggests seeing your doctor or a sleep specialist to rule out any underlying sleep disorders.
My problem was, I’d gotten into a bad habit. Because my Personal Assistant liked to sleep in, I started awakening at 11am and nodding off at 4am . Now I know better. Even if it’s a 2-power nap day, I go to sleep at 11pm and arise at 7am. It was a hard transition getting to be an early riser–it took me about 3 weeks, but it was worth it. Carpe diem!