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Feeling tired? Time to ditch the caffeine and take a workday power nap instead

It gives you a chance to rest for a short period and boost productivity, one expert says. But power naps are only beneficial when they are done correctly.

The Better Sleep Council found that one in five working Americans nap during the workday.
The Better Sleep Council found that one in five working Americans nap during the workday.

Children aren’t the only ones who can benefit from naps.

After hours of working, many adults experience a mid-day slump and find themselves in need of a re-charge. Instead of grabbing a caffeinated beverage, it might be better to combat your sleepiness with, well, sleep.

A power nap can ”provide the refreshment you need if you’re struggling to stay alert or haven’t had a good night’s sleep,” says Rebecca Robbins, a sleep scientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

A power nap “gives people the chance to rest for a short period of time to boost workplace productivity,” she says.

But power naps are only beneficial when they are done correctly.

Sleep experts say that power naps should be quick and refreshing — typically 20 to 30 minutes — to improve alertness throughout the day.

“You don’t have to go to sleep fully,” says James Maas, a former professor and chair of psychology at Cornell University who coined the term “power nap” more than 50 years ago. “It’s an opportunity to shut your eyes, breathe slowly and recharge.”

For most people, 15 minutes should be enough to power through the rest of the workday. Maas says lengthier naps are counterproductive.

“Never nap for 60 minutes,” he says. “If you power nap any time longer than 40 minutes, you’re going to wake up feeling very groggy for another hour or so.”

Shelby Harris, a clinical psychologist and author of “The Women’s Guide to Overcoming Insomnia,” says the best time to take your power nap is between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., because napping later in the day “can interfere with your sleep at night.”

A recent study from the Better Sleep Council found that one in five working Americans naps during the workday, with 87% of those responding to the survey saying they felt refreshed afterward.

Sleep experts say this isn’t surprising. In contrast to coffee or pop, which will likely “damage your sleep at night and only offer short term energy for about 30 minutes,” Robbins says a power nap is a healthier alternative to improve workplace performance, strengthen memory and boost creativity.

Harris says naps have long-term health benefits, too, such as improving your mood and aiding in stress management.

“Power naps can reduce accidents and mistakes while also improving attention, alertness, concentration and performance,” she says. “They can even be used effectively to combat drowsy driving when a short nap is taken just before getting behind the wheel.”

Naps aren’t for everyone. Some people report feeling more tired after a 20-minute snooze than they did before.

“That’s likely someone who didn’t set or snoozed their alarm and blew through the 20 minutes,” Robbins says. “Really shoot for that 20 to 30 minutes, and plan accordingly. If you think it’ll take five minutes to fall asleep, then set an alarm for 25 or 35 minutes to factor that in.”

Maas says that initial grogginess is typically temporary, and something as simple as a splash of cold water on your face can get you back into action.

“That normal circadian dip isn’t gonna last forever,” he says. “You’re going to get your second wind of energy, and the feeling a little bit groggy won’t last long.”

Sleep experts offered suggestions for how to make the most of your power nap:

  • Designate a comfortable place and time to nap: If you’re working from home, take a nap in your bed or any setting in which you’re able to recline rather than at your desk.
  • Put your alarm away from the bed: To avoid the temptation of hitting that snooze button, set your alarm away from the bed so you have to get up and turn it off.
  • Get some daylight exposure after your nap: Don’t stay in the dark once the 20 minutes are up. Maas says it’s best to get up, walk around and see some sunlight to combat any grogginess.
  • Avoid napping if you have trouble sleeping at night: Anyone with insomnia-like symptoms should avoid sleeping during the day, Robbins says: “Power naps are not for those who have difficulty falling or staying asleep at night.”