Powernapping. One of my biggest interests and one of the biggest interests of the students I am helping to live a more successful college life. With a powernap you can easily turn a lazy afternoon into a productive one.

If you are interested in the subject, I have an elaborate article about it, called ‘The Powernap: The Secret to more Creativity and Productivity‘. In short: a quick nap in a time you are tired, only a nap, getting up immediately and get productive. Long enough to have an effect on your alertness, short enough not to interfere with your night sleep. 

Research in Napping

Since two months, I am doing research in an interesting field called ‘Chronobiology’. A field of research which examines the periodic phenomena in living organisms. This includes studies about the effect of light on people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (which I am researching now), but also the effects of different light colors on alertness.

Working in this department gives me the opportunity to talk to experts and exchange ideas. Powernapping, as on of my main interests in this field, obviously is a topic of conversation every once in a while as well.

So Stefan, how does powernap work? Yeah.. I don’t know. Actually, the pro’s in the field don’t know it either. Sleep is still a very mysterious subject. There has been ideas about reaching a certain sleep stage for a while, but that is proved wrong. The most interesting idea to me right now is the necessity of the onset of delta wave activity in sleep, which you can measure by an EEG. All kinds of ideas and if there is anybody who could give me some cool funding, I would do an awesome amount of research in the subject!

Just some more information: there are basically two factors important in sleepiness. Process C is the rhythmic variation of sleep propensity, which is controlled by a ‘circadian oscillator’ (your internal clock). Process S is the sleepiness determined by the amount of time you are awake. So process C is the clock, while S is more ‘how tired you are’.

Amount of Sleep in Powernap

I came across an interesting article, by Brooks and Lack from 2006. They conducted a study with different napping lengths and see what the effects of those different amount of sleep were on alertness, measured by cognitive tests.

So there were five different nap lengths:

  • 5 minutes
  • 10 minutes
  • 20 minutes
  • 30 minutes

After the nap they had different time points where they tested the subjects. At 5 minutes after napping, 35 minutes, 95 minutes and 155 minutes. This means they tested immediate result and the long term result as well.

All nap lengths had a positive effect on the alertness. In all cases this improvement in test scores decreased after 155 minutes. This shows process S is increasing when you are longer awake. So in one way or the other a nap is pushing process S away.

Now, for the amount of time. A 5 minute nap only showed some results on one test 5 minutes after the nap. The 10 minute nap showed an improvement on all tests, immediately after the nap until 155 minutes after the nap.

Now, the 20 minute nap and the 30 minute nap also showed this positive effect, but a negative effect on the tests taken 5 minutes after the nap. This could be related with the grumpy feeling (called Sleep Inertia) you encounter after waking up from a longer sleep. This was not seen after the 10 minute nap.

For us, this means a shorter, 10 minute, nap has a better immediate effect than a longer, 20 minute, nap.

If you are using the Powernap as I am advocating it, as a productivity booster when you need it, you could rather have a shorter nap than a longer nap. So if you are in doubt about when you should set an alarm clock, set it rather shorter than longer. I personally use a timer, which I set for around 16 minutes (I need a couple of minutes to fall asleep). If you are an easy sleeper, set your alarm clock 15-20 minutes ahead. If you are not falling asleep that easy set it 20-25 minutes ahead.

Good luck in taking a nap!

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