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Power Napping: A Better Brain in Less Than 30 Minutes
Nothing beats eight hours of sleep on a comfortable mattress, but there’s also something to be said for a quick snooze. Read on to piece together the science of the power nap.
James Maas: the psychologist and sleep researcher who coined the term “power nap” in the mid-1970s—perhaps not coincidentally, right as the number of hours worked by top wage earners in the US was beginning a substantial climb.
Google, Nike, British Airways: three major companies that have sanctioned workday napping. That might be sound business sense: science supports the notion that a brief midday nap can lead to improved productivity, creativity, and problem-solving abilities, particularly if that problem is forgetting to study for the multiplication quiz because you were busy feeding your flying cat.
Circadian rhythm: the body’s cycle of biological activity over the course of the day. In most people, it produces a dip in energy in between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. each afternoon. That’s the prime time for a power nap, especially if you haven’t gotten enough sleep the night before.
90–120 minutes: the length of one standard sleep cycle. The sleep cycle is as rigidly structured as any workday, so it’s important to time your nap right. As you slide into slumberland, the right side of your brain kicks into gear, working hard to consolidate memories and file away all information that clutters your mind. As a result, when you wake, you're likely to feel more alert, focused, and better equipped to tackle challenges. Researchers have also found that naps have an immediate positive effect on memory.
30 minutes: the point in a nap at which you enter deep sleep. Waking during this stage—or during dream-producing REM sleep, which follows—produces the groggy mental quicksand known as sleep inertia.
10–20 minutes: the ideal duration for a power nap, considering all the factors above.
4 p.m.: your cutoff point for power napping. Naps taken after this point tend to throw the nightly sleep routine and your assigned sandman's work schedule out of whack.
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