Power Naps for Everyone

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Mei sleeping on our couch.You may think you know how to take a nap.  Lie down, close eyes, and whenever you wake up that’s it.  As it turns out, anything beyond 30 minutes puts you into danger of biting your work colleagues heads off when they interrupt you at 40 or 50 minutes into your nap.

I find myself constantly giving this advice to my work colleagues and family members.  So, here’s a blog post on what works very well for me.

There was a British study I read some 6 or so years ago that concluded a simple formula for power napping.  And ever since I started to use this formula, it has worked wonders for my afternoon concentration. 


First and foremost, caffeine is your enemy here.  If you are a 2+ cups of coffee drinker a day, "because I need it to get going", then you may have to look elsewhere to prepare.  There’s nothing you can do when you crash in the afternoon but to drink more caffeine.

One idea would be to switch to Japanese Green Tea (not the cheap store-brands, but actual shredded green leafs that you control the dosage with).  It is said that the caffeine in Japanese Green Tea absorbs at a much slower pace than coffee, which is less of a shock to your body (and lasts longer).  This could allow you to come down from that high more easily, and allow a power nap.

I actually went caffeine-free for about 6 solid years.  It completely changes your sleep habits (for the good).  The only caffeine I take now is a cup of imported Japanese Green Tea in the morning (but no later than 12 noon), and a piece of chocolate here and there once a week or so.

1. Remove all distractions.

Turn off the computer, all distractions, close the office door, put up a sign in your cubical for Do Not Disturb – whatever it takes to remove all distractions.  Also, silence any phones in your area (no txt, next chess move alerts, etc).

The problem with New York City when I moved here is I have yet to work in an office with dedicated offices, or even a cubical!  Everyone is squeezed into tight open work areas, and demanded to be at full attention at all hours of the day.  This is a horrible working environment and goes against our basic evolutional bodily functions.  You are yawning at 2pm?  Yeah, no wonder.  All I have to say here is to bring a set of very large headphones, and set a workplace policy that when you have your headphones on, you are to not be disturbed.  Works most of the time actually (even if head laying on the desk).

2. Set an alarm for no longer than 30 minutes. 

You do not want to sleep past 30 minutes, no matter how tired you are.  When the alarm goes off, you must get up – no exceptions.  This is because your body will start to go into REM Stage I sleep at 35 to 40 minutes, and your body will be expecting to go through all 3 stages of REM – over the next 3 to 4 hours.  Your body will start to release the chemicals needed for deep sleep at Stage I, and you don’t want any of that.  If your REM cycle is interrupted during any of these stages, well, that’s when Mr. Groggy comes out and is introduced to your co-workers.

Tip: the use of a smartphone in your workplace is perfect here.  Set some relaxing meditation music on your phone as well as an alarm on the phone for no longer than 30 minutes.  Just turn off the ringer and text message sounds first.

3. Set the proper conditions.

If it is not possible to set a dark area, bring a sleep mask with you to work.  Also, increase the temp if possible or put on a jacket – even if you are a bit warm already (your body lowers its temp during sleep cycles).  If you cannot use a sleep mask or dim the lights, just lie your forehead on your arms on your desk.

4. Remove all thoughts of stress. 

Do not think about anything related to work, no matter how fun it is.  Think nothing of deadlines or tasks – that only begets an elevated heart rate. Think of the next vacation for the family instead, or your kids next birthday wish, or that hot rod car project: whatever makes you happy. 

If interrupted from slumber…

There are a few rules to follow if you are interrupted by the kids, or co-workers.

  • Get up immediately. 
  • Do not attempt to go back to the nap for the next 2 to 3 hours.  Anything earlier than that does not work.

This is why it is important to set the policy that once you are resting, you are at rest. 

Power Naps are not a replacement for the lack of sleep.

One bad night of sleep?  Fine.  Two or more of consecutive bad nights of sleep?  Power naps aren’t going to help much.

Tell the boss you are just thinking.

The British study (if I could find it, I would – Binging British Power Nap Studies has an endless supply of links) also concluded that power napping makes you more focused in the 2 to 3 hours after the power nap.  Additional research on the study yielded that people tend to have their best ideas just before and just after Stage I REM.

So the next time your boss asks if you are sleeping on the job, say no and you just are thinking.

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