By Steven Gillman

A “power nap” is what used to be called a catnap. The new term was apparently coined by social psychologist James Maas. It is a short nap that is designed to refresh you, and make you more productive. Does it work?

Dr. Sara Mednick, a researcher at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, says napping benefits cell repair, heart function, and hormonal maintenance. What a power nap does is maximize these benefits, by getting the rejuvenative effects in as short a time as possible. Brain function is helped as well. A NASA study found that naps don’t aid alertness, but they do improve memory functions.

Other recent research shows that power naps can boost productivity, lower stress, and improve learning and mood (no surprise there). Analyzing the MRIs of nappers, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies found that with a nap, brain activity stays high throughout the day. Skip the nap, however, and brain activity declines as the day goes on.

Many who are deficient on regular night time sleep make time for short naps during the day. Steve Fossett says that when he made his record 67-hour flight around-the-world alone in his jet, he took a couple dozen two-to-three minute naps as his only sleep. He claims that he awoke refreshed. When Lance Armstrong was training for his Tour-de-France bicycle races, naps were an important part of his routine. U.S. Marines in Iraq are instructed to take a power nap before going out on patrol.

Napping 101

Sleep comes in several stages. A power nap aims at achieving just the first two stages. These are the stage of relaxation and slower respiration, and the second stage - light restful sleep. The first stage takes about ten minutes. The second can last for ten to twenty minutes. Based on this, many people consider 20 minutes the ideal length for a power nap.

Length is open to debate, though. It seems likely that ideal length varies for individuals. Your own ideal nap length is probably best determined through experimentation. The important point here is that if you sleep too long, you get what is called “sleep inertia.”

This is when you feel heavy, it is hard for you to focus, and your mind is sluggish. It is essentially the winding down of activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. If you nap too long, it can take thirty minutes or more to “reboot” and overcome this sleep inertia.

A Power Nap Routine

Ready for a simple two-step routine for power napping? This is taken from research done at the Loughborough University in the UK.

Step one: Relax and drink a cup of coffee.

Step Two: Close your eyes and let yourself fall asleep for 15 minutes.

Your body takes time to process the caffeine in the coffee, so you get your nap or your “micro-sleep” in, and the caffeine hits just as you are ready to wake up and get back to work. Sleep deprived subjects were used for the research, and they reported feeling very refreshed following this routine. This kind of power nap will likely work for those who are not as sleep deprived as well.

Can’t Fall Asleep?

You may have trouble falling asleep quickly. Fifteen minutes spent relaxing and daydreaming may have benefits, but what if you really want to sleep during that power nap? Try brainwave entrainment CDs. Listen to these CDs (the good ones), and your brainwaves slow automatically, putting you into deep meditative state - or asleep in my case.

Copyright Steve Gillman. For more on Brainwave Entrainment, and to get the Brain Power Newsletter and other free gifts, visit:

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