Nap Your Way to Increased Productivity

Can napping increase your productivity?  Surprisingly, in spite of the fact that napping usually evokes mental images associated with laziness, recent scientific findings have conclusively proven that naps can actually boost productivity.

The reason that scientists recommend napping is because it alters your brain waves. Neuroscientists study brain waves through a machine called an electroencephalogram (EEG).  An EEG records the electrical activity in the brain and alerts scientists when the brain is producing brain waves.

Neuroscientists have identified four types of brain waves that are rippling throughout your brain at any given time. 

  1. Beta Waves: When you are awake and your mind is alert and fully aroused Beta waves occur in your brain. [1]
  2. Alpha Waves: Your brain produces Alpha waves when you are in a calm, relaxed state with your eyes closed. Alpha brain waves can occur while awake or in the initial phase of sleep. 
  3. Theta Waves: These brain waves are associated with light sleep. 
  4. Delta Waves: Delta waves are what the brain generates when in a deep, restful sleep.[2]

The reason that napping can increase your productivity is that when taking a nap your brain shifts from Beta to Alpha waves.[3]  This is significant because Alpha waves are associated with enriched brain function, such as heightened levels of cognition and creativity.  Due to this change in the brain, napping has also been shown to enhance one’s mood and ability to perform at peak levels.[4]  For example, a research experiment conducted by NASA identified that when pilots took a 26 minute nap their performance improved by 34 percent.[5]  Furthermore, regular napping is even linked to a higher life expectancy and a decreased rate of heart disease.[6]

Before you run to off to take a nap, understand that all naps are not created equal.  Dr. David Dinges, Professor at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School writes that the ideal time to nap is 12 hours from the midpoint of the previous night’s sleep.[7]   The goal of a nap is not to fall into a deep sleep, but to move from Beta to Alpha brain waves.[8]   This is why the recommended length of time for a nap is between 20 – 30 minutes.  Longer than 30 minutes of napping will induce Theta waves, which can actually prompt you to feel groggy upon waking.  In fact, for napping to be beneficial you do not even need to fall asleep.  All that is necessary to rejuvenate your brain is lay down, close your eyes for 20 – 30 minutes and allow your mind to quiet down.  You will find that when you rise, your brain’s capacity to comprehend and retain information will be improved and likewise so will your productivity.

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[1] J. Baumeisterm T. Barthel, K.R. Geiss and M. Weiss. “Influence of phosphatidylserine on cognitive performance and cortical activity after induced stress.”  Nutritional Neuroscience, 11 (3), June, 2008.  p. 103 – 110. 
[2] Mark Bear, Barry Connors, Michael Paradiso.  Neuroscience:  Exploring the Brain, 3rd edition.  (New York:  Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 2007).  p. 589.
[3] Pierce J.  Howard.  The Owner’s Manual for The Brain.  (Austin:  Bard Press.  2006).  p. 210.
[4] Lydia Dotto.  Losing Sleep:  How Your Sleeping Habits Affect Your Life.  (New York:  William Morrow & Company, 1990).
[5] John Medina.  Brain Rules.  (Seattle:  Pear Press, 2008).  p. 167.
[6] Pierce J.  Howard.  The Owner’s Manual for The Brain.  (Austin:  Bard Press.  2006).  p. 211.
[7] D. Dinges and R. Bourgton.  Sleep and Alertness:  Chronobiological, Behavioral and Medial Aspects of Napping.  (New York:  Raven Press, 1989). 
[8] Pierce J.  Howard.  The Owner’s Manual for The Brain.  (Austin:  Bard Press.  2006).  p. 210.