Improve Your Late-day Focus with a Power Nap

If you regularly feel sluggish and unfocused while working, you’re not alone. A survey by Accountemps found that 86% of professionals between the ages of 18 and 34, and 71% of those between 35 and 54, admitted that they often felt sleepy at work. That is a significant concern when you consider the impact of being drowsy while working: More than half (52%) of study participants reported lack of focus or being easily distracted, 47% said they procrastinated more, 38% felt grumpy, and 29% said that they made more mistakes.

While more than half (55%) of the participants said that they would use a nap room if their employer offered one, a mere 2% said that this was the case. Of those who said that they would NOT take advantage of a nap room, 46% said that they thought it might make them sleepier, 35% didn’t want to be perceived as a slacker, and 34% worried about not getting their work done.

The reality is, napping can improve memory, focus and job performance. Fortunately, remote workers can take advantage of this useful midday break without having to worry about the stigma of being labeled as lazy or a shirker.

Done right, a quick nap can revitalize you for hours. The trick, though, is keeping it brief — what is typically referred to as the “power nap.” The power nap refers to sleep that is short enough to revitalize, yet that ends before slipping into R.E.M. (Rapid eye movement) or deep sleep. It is a phrase attributed to Cornell University professor James Maas, whose research on the relationship between sleep and performance formed the basis for his book Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance.

For the best results when napping, timing is key. Snoozing from 10 to 20 minutes can refresh you and boost your energy and productivity for hours. Longer than that, and you may experience sleep inertia and wind up feeling even more sluggish than before.

The following are tips to optimize your naptime so that you can wake refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of your day.

  • Prior to napping: Take 10 minutes to prep yourself. Drink a cup of coffee or tea, while reading something relaxing — not a thriller, page-turner or something that you would find difficult to put down after 10 minutes. (Caffeine typically kicks in after 20-30 minutes and will help to ensure that 20 minutes doesn’t turn into two hours.)
  • Set a timer or alarm for 20 minutes and lie down in a dark place. Consider eyeshades if you can’t effectively shut out the light in your space. Use earplugs to block distracting noises, or wear earphones while listening to soothing ambient tunes or white noise.
  • Force yourself to get up after 20 minutes, even if you’re still a little drowsy — the coffee will help. If you nap longer, you’ll go into REM sleep and it will be difficult to rouse yourself.

Experts say that the best time to nap is midday (depending on when you rise) when your circadian rhythms are low. For instance, if you wake at 6 a.m., optimal naptime would be between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Don’t wait too late though, or your afternoon nap may interfere with your ability to stick to your nighttime sleep schedule. Napping should not be a replacement for a good night’s sleep.