I just woke up from a nap and feel like a million bucks.

When I transitioned from working at home to working in the software park where I spend my days currently, one of the first things I noticed was that everyone naps. After lunchtime the room would be filled with people resting their heads on their desk, out like a light. It looked uncomfortable and silly to me, and the seemingly institutionalized nature of this practice reminded me of nap time in kindergarten. How far my understanding of napping has come since then.

Now I’m all about it, and take naps on a comfortable couch almost daily. Stage 2 naps in particular, otherwise known as a power naps (a term coined by Cornell social psychologist James Maas). Here’s a quick guide to get you started.

About Sleep Cycles

Sleep comes in five different stages. They are:

  1. Just drifting off. You wake up feeling like you weren’t asleep.
  2. A 20 minute cycle of reduced heart and brain activity. Wake up feeling energized and alert.
  3. A transitional cycle between light sleep and deep sleep. Wake up feeling groggy and tired.
  4. A 30-minute deep sleep cycle characterized by slow brain waves known as delta waves
  5. Deep sleep characterized by dreams and rapid eye movement (REM)

Stage 2 is the sweet spot. Sleep for 20 minutes a day, ideally in the early afternoon, and you will feel outstanding. 1pm to 3pm is prime time for napping, as this is when your energy is most depleted and the hormone melatonin is at its highest level (due to the circadian rhythm).

The Benefits

The greatest benefit for me is that I awake from a stage 2 nap feeling refreshed and have plenty of energy and enthusiasm for the afternoon. You’ll awake with increased alertness and motor skills, reduce the likelihood of a cardiac event, and lower your stress levels. Even if you’re getting a full night’s sleep (which I also recommend), you still stand to gain the benefits of a stage 2 nap according to research conducted and published by Japanese scientists Mitsuo Hayashi and Tadao Hori in this book, which is available as a free download.

The Checklist

Follow these steps and they’ll eliminate 95% of the problems you might otherwise encounter in your stage 2 napping adventures.

  1. Nap between 1pm and 3pm, as mentioned above
  2. Nap in complete darkness. Get a sleep mask
  3. Nap in a quiet place. Avoid the sound of people talking.
  4. Set an alarm. I set mine for 25 minutes after I lie down.

Give it a shot. Once you get in the habit of doing this, I don’t think there’s any going back. The cost to benefit ratio of this habit is just too good.

For more information, check out this PDF on the subject by the Japanese scientists mentioned above: The Effects of a 20-Minute Nap Before Post-Lunch Dip