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Does Power Nap really give Power? What Science Has to Say About it?

Researches reveal benefits of a power nap & what time is an idol for it

  • “With great power comes a great need to take a nap”- Rick Riordan, The Last Olympian
  • Do Your eyes get heavy and gradually close? But wait, it’s only lunchtime and you still have so much to do!
  • Would taking a power nap help or would it derail your day?

Our sleep, both at night and during naps is made up of approximately 90-minute sleep cycles with four stages each. A power nap can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 3 hours. So, it can include full sleep cycles or just a few stages. As you fall to sleep, you enter

State 1: The first 2-5 minutes of sleep.

State 2: Comes next, for about 30 minutes. In state 2 body temperatures drop, muscles relax, and breathing and heart rate become more regular.

Stage 3: Slow wave sleep, the rolling waves increase as your neurons fire in coordination. This phase lasts about 20-30 minutes and is where your deepest sleep occurs. Then, you enter REM sleep (rapid eye movement), which lasts about 10-20 minutes in a nap. During REM, your brain becomes more active, similar to when you are awake. A sleep cycle ends when REM ends.

power nap
power nap

OK, but will a nap make you feel better?

Well, that depends on a few things- especially what stages of sleep the nap includes. You should take a 30-minute nap, which consists mostly of stage 2 sleep.

During stage 2 sleep, long-term potentiation occurs, which strengthens the synapses between neurons. During stage 2 sleep, long-term potentiation occurs, which strengthens the synapses between neurons. A 20–30-minute nap stops short of State 3‘s deep sleep, making it relatively easy to wake up from. A 30–60-minute power nap, meanwhile, has the benefits of stage 2 sleep and also takes you into the deeper sleep of stage 3. During stage 3, multiple brain areas work together information from short-term memory storage to long-term storage, stabilizing and strengthening long-term memory by coupling sleep spindles with slow waves.

Stage 3 is the most difficult stage to wake up from. So, while a 30–60-minute nap can have cognitive benefits, those benefits often don’t kick in until about 15 minutes after waking up. 60–90-minute naps enter the REM stage. The prefrontal cortex, which is largely responsible for inhibition and cognitive control, is much less active during REM.

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The amygdala and cingulate cortex, regions associated with emotion and motivation, are highly active as well. During REM sleep, scientists have proposed that the following factors contribute to bizarre dreams:

The decrease in inhibition and cognitive control might lead to wild associations. And thanks to the amygdala and cingulate cortex activity, those associations can be between emotionally charged topics. When we wake up, some researchers believe that this stage may help us connect ideas in a creative way. Because the brain activity during REM is closer to waking, it may be easier to wake up from REM than in stage 3, even though the nap is longer.

The time of day also matters

power nap
power nap

As the day progresses, our need for deep stage 3 sleep increases. Taking a nap later in the day may prevent you from going to sleep at night if you nap later in the day. This doesn’t happen during REM sleep. Longer periods of REM occur during morning hours. So, morning naps are dominated by REM

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Midway naps have about equal parts of REM and deep sleep, and evening naps contain more deep sleep. On top of all this, it seems that we are just about evenly split, between nappers and non-nappers.

Sleeping consistently improves cognitive performance for nappers, but not for non-nappers. Researchers think this could be because nappers can stay in lighter sleep and move through sleep stages more easily. While napping, non-nappers may experience deeper sleep, making them groggy afterward.

So, will a power nap help? Well, there is only one way to find out…

Keep your laptop aside and experiment with it yourself.

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Ayushi Mittal

In her journey to become a journalist, Ayushi can inculcate your tale through her news writings. You may find her with a mike in protests, rallies, or in museums. So what's your story?
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