Science Says Napping Increases Productivity

The benefits of taking a power nap are great and varied. They can make you more productive, improve your health and just help to make you an all-around happier person.

We still want to apologize for all the naps that we refused to take as children. A short nap is a great way to get a bit of extra energy to help you finish out your day. European countries have the right idea with their afternoon siesta, taking a break in the middle of the afternoon to rest or nap before continuing on with the rest of their workday. The rest of the world is stuck with the standard nine to five schedule with no chance to take a nap in the middle.

That might start to change soon — science is showing that napping actually helps to increase productivity and can improve creativity and intelligence. It might even be able to help you live a healthier life. Let's take a look at the science of napping, what the best kinds of naps are and how taking a nap in the afternoon can help you live a more productive life.

Why We Need Naps

Why do we need naps? They seem like something that should be left behind with other childhood things, but they can be beneficial even for adults.

According to the CDC, upwards of one-third of adults aren't getting enough sleep. The average adult should be getting between seven and nine hours of sleep, but most of us get less than six hours a night. Lack of sleep can be uncomfortable or even dangerous. Not sleeping for 24 hours slows your reaction time so much that it's roughly equal to having a blood alcohol level of 0.10 — well over the legal limit.

Yes, you read that right. Being drowsy behind the wheel is just as bad as driving drunk — and you wonder why we need naps?

We're also biologically designed to take naps in the afternoon — it’s a natural part of our circadian rhythm. Many people hit those afternoon doldrums around 2 p.m. when all they want to do is sleep — unfortunately for most of us, that's right in the middle of our workday.

Advertisement

The Science of Naps

Naps are good for everyone, no matter how young or old they are. A study by the University of Colorado at Boulder showed that toddlers who miss a nap are more anxious and have more trouble solving problems than those who nap every day. This problem carries over as we age — naps help us manage our anxiety and solve problems, but we tend to leave them behind as we age.

Research has also shown that taking a power nap in the afternoon is more effective than drinking a cup of coffee. The effect of taking a nap lasts much longer than caffeine and has the added benefit of having no crash at the end. Whether or not you're getting enough sleep, a nap in the afternoon can be much more effective than loading up on caffeine to get you through the rest of your workday.

Naps are even good for your heart. One study of more than 23,000 individuals found that napping at least three times a week lowered your chance of developing heart disease by 37 percent. It also has positive effects on blood pressure and can reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke and even obesity.

Advertisement

Different Kinds of Naps

Taking the perfect nap isn't as simple as just laying down and falling asleep. There are four different types of naps to consider when you're trying to make it through those afternoon doldrums.

The 20-minute nap, also known as the Power Nap, is one of the best ways to get an extra burst of energy and make it through the rest of the afternoon. It enables you to get the most out of your short nap without worrying about being groggy or needing extra caffeine to wake up. The Mythbusters proved the efficacy of the power nap during a 24-hour test on a boat — taking four 20-minute naps every six hours during a 24-hour period helped to make them more efficient and accurate during their tests.

The 30-minute nap is the one that you want to avoid — if you sleep for 30 minutes, a concept called sleep inertia starts to take effect. When you're sleeping through the night, this inertia helps to carry you into the deeper stages of sleep. If you're just trying to take a short nap, it will leave you feeling groggy and worse off than when you laid down in the first place.

Advertisement

Once you get past the 30-minute mark, your brain starts to head down toward deep sleep, which is a great option if you have an hour to kill. When your brain starts to slow down and head toward deep sleep, short-term memory is converted to long-term memory, which makes remembering names, faces and facts easier. If you're studying something or have a new skill to learn, a 60-minute nap can make it easier to retain all that information.

Finally, once you approach the 90-minute mark on your nap, you experience a full REM cycle — deep sleep and possibly dreams. A 90-minute nap is ideal for reinforcing your memory and improving creativity. Most of us don't have an hour and a half to kill in the middle of an average day, but if you really need a break and to reinforce the ideas that you've learned, this nap can be a great tool.

Advertisement

Napping and Productivity

While napping is good for your health and energy levels, what can it do for your productivity? Taking a power nap during the day has a variety of benefits, including:

Improved creative problem-solving skills: If you're having trouble figuring out the best solution to a troubling problem, taking a power nap can refresh your mind and give you an edge to help you figure out the answer.

Enhanced logical reasoning: This benefit is another one from the 20-minute power nap. Again, it helps to refresh your problem-solving abilities.

Learning: If you've got a new thing that you need to learn, a power nap is an invaluable tool. It takes a little longer to convert short-term memory to long-term, but a short nap can make it easier for you to learn new concepts and remember important information.

All of these advantages can help you be more productive when you're at work and even when you're at home. A siesta in the afternoon can also help reduce your stress levels, which in turn improves productivity. When you're stressed, your body produces excessive amounts of cortisol and adrenaline, which can start to damage your cognitive function over time.

Advertisement

Biology

How Far Can You Go Without Sleep and What It Would Be Like?

Having enough energy to make it through the day can also let you get more done by helping you make fewer mistakes — keeping you from having to go back and start the job over again.

Finally, taking a power nap can make you a more pleasant and amiable person to work with — getting enough sleep or taking a power nap in the afternoon can make you more alert and help to reduce overall fatigue. If you've got enough energy, you're less likely to be a grumpy Gus and more likely to work well with your colleagues. If you work on a team, this benefit can be an invaluable one.

Most of us don't have the opportunity to take even a 20-minute power nap during the day — we’re lucky if we even have time to take a lunch that isn't eaten at our desk as we check emails or plan the rest of our afternoon. The benefits of taking a power nap are a great and varied though. They can make you more productive, improve your health and just help to make you an all-around happier person.

Advertisement

As we said before, European countries have the right idea with their afternoon siesta — they have lunch and then take some time to relax, nap or just de-stress before returning to work for the rest of the day. Maybe we should take a page out of their playbook since implementing mandatory naps in the afternoon could help to improve productivity across the workforce.

Take Naps for a Boost in Your Everyday Life

If you get an hour for lunch, try finding a comfortable place to take a 20-minute nap — a chair in a quiet office is usually enough. Make sure you set an alarm for 20 minutes though so you don't oversleep and end up getting in trouble. Pop in your headphones, find a quiet music station and rest. You may find that it doesn't help at all, but you could also discover that it greatly improves your work productivity.

Take pleasure in the little things in life — whether those little things are chocolate chip cookies, your favorite song, dancing in the rain or taking a nap in the middle of the day. They don't come along as often as we would like, so it's important to take advantage of them while they're here. Find the time to take a nap in the afternoon instead of powering through or loading up on caffeine. You'll feel better and probably end up being more productive in the long run.

Advertisement

Megan Ray Nichols is a blogger and freelance science writer. She enjoys participating in conversations about engineering, technology and space exploration. Megan is also a regular contributor to Datafloq, Cerasis, and American Machinist. When she isn't writing, Megan loves watching movies, hiking, and stargazing. Subscribe to Schooled By Science today to keep up with scientific discoveries or follow Megan on Twitter.