The Secret Power of Power Naps

Posted February 6, 2020

I was once interviewed by a regional newspaper on the topic of napping.  Since I served as an internal coach for a very progressive, forward-thinking technology company, the paper thought that perhaps I’d have something to share on the topic of napping as a way to boost performance.  I did have something to share.  The interview went well.  The aftermath did not.

The article shared the science behind power napping along with some anecdotes (including my own experience), but the readers missed any and all nuance.  The people in my company did not have their eyes open to the power of power naps, but instead essentially what they heard was “Chad sleeps on the job.”  Ouch.  I suffered some minor ribbing, none of which tamed my appreciation of midday naps.

Sleeping often gets a bad rap.  Perhaps we should be wary of sleeping too much in certain contexts, but people today are much more likely to suffer from not enough sleep.  Instead of being ashamed of needing sleep, we need to embrace the power of sleep and recognize the pitfalls of not getting enough sleep.  Bad things happen to humans who get too little sleep (less than 6 hours/night consistently).  The Cleveland Clinic reports that those bad things include:

That’s a fun list, right?  As a coach, my job is to help my clients reach peak performance in whatever area of life for which they want coaching.  Central to reaching peak performance is removing obstacles, and sleep deprivation is a major obstacle.

All of this brings us to the topic of power naps.  When we can’t get enough sleep at night, a good backup plan is to incorporate short periods of sleep during the day.  Notice I did not say, “short periods of rest.”  No, I specifically mean sleep.   Too often we turn “rest” into a time to watch YouTube videos or check Facebook or work on a to-do list of some sort.  Such activities represent a “break” from work but not regenerative rest.  Sleep, even in small doses, gives your brain a chance to reset, and it’s this reset that is so powerful and positive.

I often encourage clients to experiment with power naps, and here are some of the common concerns they share (along with the truth about these concerns):

  1. I don’t have time. The truth is that busy people don’t have time to waste being unproductive and this is precisely why they need to sleep during the day.  Not having time for a midday nap is like a NASCAR driver not having time for a pit stop.  A quick (5 to 12 minutes) nap will make the next few hours far more productive than slogging through those hours with a semi-disengaged brain and body.
  2. I can’t fall asleep that quickly. Your goal with a power nap is not to fall into deep REM sleep, but to reach a state of relaxation that allows for a neuro-reset.  If sleep were the public swimming pool, you don’t need to dive to the bottom of the deep end, you just need to wade in until the water is up to your waist.  For napping, you want to aim for somewhere between a meditative state and snoring.  Since you don’t need to go full slumber, you can actually train your body to relax and find the power nap zone in less than a minute.
    One of the best ways to train your body to ease into rest is to set an alarm.  The alarm allows you to relax with the full confidence that you will not sink into a deep sleep or wake up with slobber running down your chin.
  3. I’ll be groggy after a nap. This concern is legit only if your nap becomes a slumber.  Some folks think they need 30 minutes or more of sleep for the nap to be helpful, but studies show that more than 20 minutes of sleep starts to be detrimental to post-nap performance.  Personally, I’ve found that 7 to 12 minutes is a sweet spot for me.  Sleeping in such short bursts clears the cobwebs without shutting things down too much.  I find that I can be right back into the flow of work with two or three minutes following my 12-minute nap.
  4. It’s embarrassing. What if I get caught?  Trust me, I can relate (see paragraphs 1 and 2 of this post!).  But the truth is that the need for sleep is not a weakness.  If you think of it as a weakness, you are wrong.  If you think of it as a healthy performance booster, you can reframe your midday nap as a good example for anyone who might notice.

Like a lot of things in life, sleep can be used for good or can be misused for ill.  Keep in mind that the aim of napping is to boost your overall performance, not to avoid work, slack off, or selfishly get paid for doing nothing.  And of course there are times when napping is totally inappropriate (meetings, while driving, while being paid to be attentive, etc.)  With these reminders and boundaries in place, try to harness the power of napping to boost your performance and encourage those you coach to do the same.