The surrealist painter, Salvador Dali, had an interesting hack for coming up with creative new ideas.
In the afternoon, he would sit in his chair with one arm draped over the side of that chair holding a key. Beneath that key, there was an upside down plate.
He would let himself drift off until just before the moment he was about to fall asleep. The key would fall from his hand and onto the plate, and the clatter would wake him up, often with a new artistic idea in his mind. Dali called this technique sleeping without sleeping.
Salvador Dali wasn’t the only one who used this technique. Thomas Edison was rumored to use a similar method with a ball baring instead of a key. Beethoven was fond of taking naps in his carriage in order to get new musical ideas.
All of these people knew the benefits of an afternoon nap.
The 20 Minute Afternoon Power Nap is the Best Productivity Technique Ever.
If you consider all the other productivity techniques that are out there, whether the Fineman technique or the Pomodoro technique, or even just organizing your study space, they all involve work, which makes them more of a hassle.
By contrast, taking a nap in the afternoon involves basically no effort whatsoever, and yet has a ton of productivity benefits.
It can help deal with feelings of fatigue and leave you more energetic for the rest of the day.
It can also help with creativity and memory consolidation.
However, if you are napping incorrectly, it could also leave you feeling groggy and waste a ton of your time.
First we do need to answer the question:
Why do people like to nap in the first place?
There are a couple really important reasons for this.
A lot of people are actually pretty sleep deprived. A couple years ago the CDC put to some statistics showing that over 40 million people in the US alone get less than six hours of sleep per night.
The second big reason why people like to take naps has to do with your circadian rhythm, that built-in biological mechanism that governs the ebbs and flows of your energy levels throughout the day.
Most people experience their biggest dip in energy levels in the middle of the night, around two to four AM when they are, conveniently, fast asleep.
There is another big dip in energy levels in the afternoon around the hours of 1 to 3 PM. The degree to which your energy actually drops in the afternoon may vary from person to person and based on different factors, including the quality and amount of sleep you actually got at night.
The fact still remains that an afternoon is a great way to deal with that dip in energy.
That brings us to our big question.
How Do You Take a Proper Afternoon Nap?
One that leaves you feeling revitalized and productive afterwards — instead of one where it feels like a truck hit you!
I’ve got five big things to share with you, ranging from basic nap techniques to more advanced stuff and some tools, and even an app that can help you out.
Timing and Duration of Your Nap is Key
For most people, the best nap duration is a 10 to 20 minute nap — the typical power nap.
The reasoning for this has to do with the sleep cycle. Sleep happens in a cycle of about 90 minutes, and it goes through several different stages.
The later stages of the sleep cycle involve slower brain wave activity. If you are awakened during one of these stages, you’re going to experience what’s called sleep inertia — that feeling of grogginess and desire to go right back to sleep. That is not what you want from an afternoon nap.
Now, if you happen to have 90 minutes free in the afternoon, then by all means, get yourself a 90 minute nap, and get a full revolution through that sleep cycle! That’s actually going to provide you with additional benefits that a power nap can’t get you, such as memory consolidation.
I’m guessing that you, like me, and most other people, you don’t have an entire hour and a half in the afternoon to spend napping on a couch.
10 to 20 minutes is going to be the best bang for your buck. You’ll want to take that 10 to 20 minute nap between the hours of 1 to 4 PM.
Why? Before 1 PM you’re probably not going to be very tire. The afternoon energy dip has likely not really hit you yet. More importantly, after 4 PM, if you take a nap, you risk messing with your night’s sleep cycle.
What If It Takes You A While To Fall Asleep?
The average person takes around 14 minutes to fall asleep at night. Some people definitely take longer.
Given that, wouldn’t a 10 to 20 minute power nap be useless if you’re not going to be able to fall asleep 15 minutes into it?
You can still gain a lot of benefits from napping even if you don’t fall asleep. The act of simply laying down and closing your eyes for a while and just relaxing can help with feelings of fatigue and increase productivity. So get rid of that expectation that you need to actually fall asleep, and you may find it helps you to eventually learn to fall asleep more easily.
Napping is a skill.
When you start out, you may not be able to fall asleep or get into that relaxed state. After a while, you’re going to find it easier and easier to do.
The Best Environment for Power Naps
The best environment for taking a nap is similar to the best environment for going to sleep.
Someplace that’s dark and quiet.
Of course, unless you work from home, you may not have access to a perpetually dark and quiet place.
Keeping a couple of simple tools in your bag can help you out a lot.
Pick up an inexpensive eye mask that can make any place dark.
Get some ear plugs or noise canceling headphones to help shut out the noise.
There’s an App for That!
There are several apps out there that can help you with power napping, or mindfulness and guided meditation training.
Pziz is a a pretty cool app for helping you take a nap. The app generates ambient soundscapes that are great for falling asleep. You also have the option of having a voice guide you to sleep, kind of like a guided meditation. You have a lot of options in configuring that voice. You can turn it off completely or you can actually have it fade out after a few minutes and just transition to that music.
There is a sleep timer function, so you can tell it you only want to nap for 20 minutes, and it’ll wake you up. That will help prevent you falling into those deeper stages of the sleep schedule and hitting that sleep inertia.
And that brings us to our last and most advanced tip.
Take a Coffee Nap
Taking a coffee nap involves drinking a cup of coffee or something else caffeinated and them immediately taking a 20 minute power nap.
You’re probably thinking to yourself that this sounds illogical, right? Caffeine is going to interfere with the quality of your sleep.
Actually, caffeine takes about 20 minutes to really kick in in your system, so by immediately taking a power nap right after you drink that cup of coffee, you actually gain the benefits of both a nap and a cup of coffee.
Essentially, as you go through the day, your brain generates a chemical called adenosine which builds up the desire to sleep.
Obviously, once you take a nap, your brain is going to clear out some of that adenosine by sleeping. That process is going to help you feel more energized and get rid of those feelings of fatigue.
Caffeine molecules are actually very similar in structure to adenosine molecules. They help block those adenosine receptors, preventing the actual adenosine molecules from plugging into them and making you feel tired.
You get the best of both worlds. The nap clears out the adenosine that’s already there, and the caffeine prevents more from plugging into those receptors, making you feel more alert.
A word of caution. if you are gonna try this technique, you do need to be careful about building up a dependence to caffeine. If you are going to try taking a coffee nap, take it easy on the coffee in the earlier part of the day.
Other Activities That Will Help Improve Productivity and Health
- Enure you’re getting enough sleep at night
- Get outside and get some sunlight exposure
- Drink enough water
- Ensure your nutrition is sound
Other than that, naps can be one more tool in your arsenal for helping boost your productivity in the middle of the day.
A nap can also help to boost your creativity and might actually help you solve a tough problem.
Time to go take a nap.