Sleep specialist Dr Guy Meadows reveals his tips for supercharging your power nap, and why you don't need to actually fall asleep to reap the benefits
The idea of a power nap sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? Feeling totally rebooted in mere minutes without having to lift a finger? It's the stuff of wellness dreams.
But, according to leading sleep expert Dr Guy Meadows , a mid-afternoon nap really does have the power to boost every aspect of our physical and mental health from happiness levels and creativity to blood pressure and even weight management.
It doesn't matter where you nap, he says - sitting on a train, sofa or at your desk are all are effective. However, if you're someone who simply can't nod off during the day, you can still take a nap. Newsflash – a power nap isn't the same thing as a sleep.
"You don't actually have to fall asleep in order to rest," reveals Dr Meadows, who is co-founder and clinical lead at Sleep School, a sleep support app and video consultation platform run by a team of sleep specialists.
"Napping occurs on the verge of sleep, therefore if you're resting your body with your eyes closed and allowing your mind to gently wander, you are on the right track," he says.
"If you feel wide awake, acknowledge this thought and accept it. Paradoxically, this often takes the pressure off, increasing the chance of falling asleep," he continues.
According to Dr Meadows, there are two types of afternoon rest: the quick 20-minute nap and the full-cycle 90-120 minute sleep, which he outlines below. Some people swear by the caffeinated power nap, downing a quick coffee, putting their head down and being woken up 20 minutes later when the caffeine kicks in rather than using an alarm. There are also devices such as the Sensate, £227 – a cordless wearable, which Get The Gloss' editorial director Victoria Woodhall, a chronic troubled sleeper dubbed the 'power nap pebble.' The Sleep School offers an app that gives you your own sleep plan including audio content and virtual courses.
If you're more of a 90-minute napper, Nick Littlehales, an elite sleep coach who works with top athletes such as David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo is on your side. His approach, which he uses to help people increase performance is to see sleep not as a block of eight hours, but as a series of 90-minute cycles, when we go through the various stages of slumber from light sleep, to REM dreaming sleep to deep sleep. Rather than focusing on getting eight hours of sleep a night, Nick explains in his book Sleep, you could complete five cycles in at night and top up with a 90-minute nap during the day.
So, how exactly can a bite-sized ten-minute power nap help us out? And when should we be taking this for the best results? Here, Dr Meadows gives us the scoop on daytime downtime.
What is the best duration for a nap?
"There are two types of nap, each serving different purposes," says Dr Meadows.
Power nap (10-20 minutes)
"This is a short nap that is under 20 minutes with the individual remaining in the lighter stages of sleep. It is usually the recommended type of nap for an immediate boost of energy and alertness, allowing you to get up easily and back to work right away. Any more than 20 minutes and you will wake up during the deep slow-wave-sleep, in a groggy state and even sleepier than before, an effect known as 'sleep inertia.'
"Aim to experiment with different times and when you feel fully alert within 5 minutes of waking up from your nap, you know you have found your perfect lap length.
Full cycle nap (90-110 minutes)
"This is the length of one full sleep cycle, during which a person passes through light, deep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep stages. Waking up after the full cycle will land you again in the light stages of sleep, helping you avoid sleep inertia. Full cycle naps are typically adopted by those seeking to pay off or manage a sleep debt such as shift workers, new parents or the sick."
What is the optimal time of day for a nap?
"The best time to nap is between midday and 3pm, when we naturally feel sleepy. Whilst commonly referred to as the ‘post-lunch dip, and believed to be caused by the act of eating lunch, it’s actually the result of a natural dip in the ‘waking’ signal emitted from our internal body clock occurring at this time.
"To find your ideal nap time, take a moment to consider whether you are a morning type (wake up and sleep early) or an evening type (wake and sleep late). Early risers tend to nap closer to midday, whereas evening people fare better around 3pm. Be aware though, that napping later than 3pm can make it difficult to fall asleep during that night. Whatever time you choose to nap, aim to repeat it every day, as this will help to make it a habit."
Where should you nap?
"You can nap literally anywhere; for example, you might choose to lie down on your bed or on a sofa, sit in a comfy chair or even at your desk. For the best results, aim to make your environment as quiet, dark and comfortable as possible."
What is the best way to wake yourself up after a nap?
"If you are new to napping, it’s worth setting an alarm to ensure you wake up after your designated time and don’t slip into an unwanted deep sleep. With regular practice, you’ll notice that it’s possible to start waking up naturally, without needing to set an alarm."
Should you nap every day?
"The frequency of your napping depends on why you are doing it. If you’re feeling drowsy, and it's affecting your performance such as your ability to drive, then taking an emergency nap can be an effective way to boost your alertness and energy levels.
"In contrast, you may choose to nap habitually every day, because it’s part of your healthy daily routine much like meditating or exercising. Napping is a skill and if you want to become better at it, we recommend practising every day. On the Sleep School App, we have a guided power nap meditation that teaches you how to both mentally prepare for and finish a nap, so you can get the most out of it."
Is napping good for you and what are the benefits?
"Naps can be seen as a smart way of quickly reaping the benefits of sleep, on all aspects of our health. Below is a list of science-backed evidence of how taking some downtime during the day can boost our mind and body."
Mental benefits of napping
1. Improved performance at work: "Physicians and nurses working three consecutive night shifts in an emergency department, who napped for an average of 25 minutes, had fewer performance lapses , more vigour, and less fatigue, and tended to more quickly complete their tasks, a 2006 study showed."
2. Better memory: "When compared to caffeine, a full-cycle nap of 90 minutes had greater benefit on improving verbal memory , according to a 2008 study."
3. Faster reaction time: "In overnight workers working 12-hour shifts, a 20-minute nap significantly improved their speed of response on vigilance tasks compared to subjects with no naps, according to a 2002 study."
4. Greater creativity: "A 90-minute nap significantly improved creative problem-solving compared with quiet rest, a 2009 study showed. This is in line with the old phrase ‘sleep on it,' which postulates that sleep helps us to solve problems.
Emotional benefits of napping
5. Feeling happier: "Napping is proven to help us emotionally by reducing stress and by boosting daytime happiness levels , a 2011 study found. Naps have been shown to block feelings of anger and fear whilst increasing feelings of positive feelings. Therefore, during stressful periods at work, having a short nap may help defuse negative emotions and thoughts."
6. Feeling less frustrated: "Taking a nap may be an effective strategy to counteract impulsive behaviour and to boost tolerance for frustration , a 2015 study suggested."
7. Feeling less depressed: "Four weeks of short naps helped boost the mental health of elderly people, found a 2002 study. This is also shown in a 2018 study where daytime napping is seen as a protective mechanism for depression ."
Body and health benefits of napping
8. Better heart health: "Taking regular naps has been shown to be of great benefit to the health of your heart , with a 37 per cent lower risk of coronary heart disease compared to those who don’t nap, according to a 2007 study."
9. Lower blood pressure: "Participants who had a nap following a stressful test, found they had lower blood pressure than those who did not sleep, according to a 2012 study."
10. Better weight management: "Having a nap could also manage weight, as shown in a 2013 study where individuals who regularly took a siesta had a lower risk of obesity."