In a nutshell:
· A power nap is a short 10–20 minute daytime sleep that terminates before the deeper sleep stages are be entered.
· The timing of the power nap is important for gaining the maximum benefit. Self experimentation will determine your optimum time.
· Many clinical studies have demonstrated that power naps improve memory and learning, increase productivity, restore wakefulness and alertness and heighten sensory perception.
· The Ultimate power nap is a caffeinated power nap to boost your function further.
In this ever more hectic and stimulating world, the demands on our output and ability to perform are constantly increasing. We play many roles in our lives, often acting as parent, friend, colleague and boss all at the same time. As such, it is becoming ever more valuable to understand our bodies and find ways to optimise our functioning so we can maintain some level of sanity whilst participating in this lifestyle. In order to have our cake and eat it too, long-term dedication and commitment are required. We can improve concentration and the ability to stay present and focused simply by altering small aspects of our lives, including sleep, diet, stress, supplements, exercise and meditation. This article and the series of articles to come will explore how to optimise your function through addressing these lifestyle factors. First up is a simple addition to your daily routine that can improve your performance and function: the Ultra-power nap.
A power nap is a short period of daytime sleep that terminates before we enter the deeper stages of our normal sleep cycle. To understand this, let’s take a look at how our sleep cycle works. A sleep cycle is a 1.5–2 hour cycle that occurs multiple times in a single night’s rest. We go through different stages, each of which is named and described according to brainwave patterns.
Brainwaves? Basically, a special machine called an EEG is attached to a person’s head, which measures electrical brain activity while a person has a night’s sleep. Find out more about brainwave patterns in this article. The sleep stages are categorised into non-REM and REM sleep according to these patterns. Non-REM is further divided into 3 or 4 stages, depending on who’s educating you.
Non REM = Stage 1–3
Stage 1 — Slow eye movement begins and we often feel like we haven’t even been asleep if we wake up during this stage. This is the stage where people often experience muscle twitching. It is thought that in infants, this muscle twitching is the brain establishing neural connections and learning how to use different parts of the body.
Stage 2 — Now the brain starts to blockthe processing of external stimuli that it registers as non-dangerous. Memory consolidation begins here.
Stage 3 — This stage is also known as delta sleep because certain brain waves called delta waves predominate. These are very slow waves demonstrating adeep sleep. It is very difficult to wake someone when in this stage.
REM (Rapid Eye Movement)
This stage occurs after stage 3 but interestingly people become easier to wake up. Eyes start to move rapidly, blood pressure increases, breathing becomes more rapid, heart rate increases, limbs are temporarily paralysed, and brainwaves are similar to those of a person in the waking state. This is when most dreams occur and if awoken you can remember them. Most people have 3–5 REM sleeps in a night. Infants spend 50% of their sleep time in REM, while for adults this is around 20%. The amount of REM sleep decreases as we age.
And the powernap? A powernap occurs in the time before you enter the stages of deep sleep (stage 3-REM). Why is this important? A sleep cycle is like an all or nothing event. You either need to bail out early (stage 1–2) or go the whole way. If you enter a cycle and wake up once you’re in too deep you will experience what is known as sleep inertia. Everyone has had this before. It’s that time you decided to indulge in an afternoon nap which lasted way longer than expected and you came out the other side feeling groggy, and actually worse than when you went in. So you probably came out thinking naps suck! But the trick is to limit the time to the period before entering the major cycle.
How long is that? Usually,after 30 minutes you will have entered a deep sleep cycle. That means you should restrict your nap to 10–20 minutes or less. If you exit sleep at stage 1–2, studies have shown increased productivity, cognitive function, memory, boosted creativity and feeling less tired. The alternative is to go through a full cycle, usually 60 to 90 minutes of napping. This plays a key role in making new connections in the brain and solving creative problems. But who has time for that in the afternoon?
The Ultra-power nap:
Also known as the stimulant nap,this is a beautiful concept where you consume a cup of coffee just before hitting the pillow. Coffee takes 20–30 minutes to start taking effect. Since your nap is only going to last for that amount of time, the caffeine will not have a chance to impact it. In addition, you will wake up not only refreshed from the nap, but supercharged from the coffee. This has become part of my daily ritual. For me it fits in my lunch break and I smash the second half of the day with the same energy and clarity as the first. Want to take it to the next level? Add some L-Theanine to your coffee. Will post more on that next time.
Now you have an excuse to nap. Enjoy!