How to Power Nap for Optimal Benefits, with Matt Walker

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Napping

Walker discusses the benefits and drawbacks of napping. Studies have shown that naps can improve learning capacity, emotional regulation, decision making, and overall cognitive function.

However, napping can also be detrimental for those struggling with insomnia, as it releases some of the sleep pressure built up throughout the day, making it harder to fall asleep at night.

For optimal napping, Walker suggests avoiding naps too late in the day, as they can interfere with nighttime sleep, similar to snacking before a main meal. Regular naps can be beneficial for those not struggling with sleep issues, but it’s important to follow a proper napping protocol.

The Optimal Power Nap Duration

Huberman shares his enjoyment of short naps, typically lasting 10 to 30 minutes, unless he’s sleep deprived. He sets an alarm to ensure the nap doesn’t exceed 90 minutes, based on advice from Walker, to avoid disrupting nighttime sleep.

The optimal duration of a nap is a key consideration, not only to prevent nighttime sleep disruption but also to avoid the groggy or grumpy feeling upon waking, known as the “post nap expression” or “PNE.”

Huberman humorously contrasts the cheerful “good morning” face with the crumpled PNE, likening them to different spirit animals – a cheerful chipmunk versus a groggy bulldog with its jowls still in contact with the floor.

The Optimal Nap Duration Depends on What You’re Optimizing For

Walker explains that the optimal nap duration depends on what benefits a person is trying to achieve. In a study about emotional faces, the benefits came from REM sleep, not non-REM sleep. In a typical sleep cycle, non-REM sleep occurs first, followed by a bout of REM sleep at the end. It’s rare for a person to go directly into REM sleep, except in cases of narcolepsy or severe REM sleep deprivation. To get the mood-resetting benefits of REM sleep during a nap, a person would need to nap for a longer period to allow enough time to go through the non-REM stages first.

Here is a short H2 title for the transcript section: The 20-Minute Power Nap for Optimal Benefits

Walker emphasizes that for most people, a 20-minute nap is ideal for improving alertness, concentration, and motivation. Napping for longer than 20 minutes can lead to sleep inertia, a groggy feeling upon waking. However, longer naps can provide greater benefits if one is patient and willing to push through the initial grogginess.

When it comes to timing, Walker recommends not napping after 3:00 p.m. to avoid interfering with nighttime sleep. Huberman shares an anecdote about a highly successful Stanford colleague who religiously naps between 12:30 and 1:00 p.m., attributing much of his productivity to this habit. This example challenges the notion that napping is a sign of laziness.

Huberman raises the question of whether people who struggle to nap should consider training themselves to do so, and if there are techniques to help individuals nap more easily.

The Fascinating World of Naps and Pseudo-Nap States

Walker believes that not everyone needs to nap, especially if they feel refreshed during the day without one. However, for those who want to try napping, he suggests mimicking nighttime conditions as much as possible, such as using an eye mask, earplugs, and a blanket.

Huberman and Walker are fascinated by liminal states, which are neither fully awake nor asleep. Walker hypothesizes that during these states, certain parts of the brain may experience local sleep, characterized by slow wave oscillations, while the person remains awake overall. He suggests that the extent of local deep sleep in these liminal states may directly relate to the benefits and intensity of the experience.

The Power of Naps

Walker and Rosekind, two legends in the field of sleep research, study how to mitigate risk in pilots during long haul flights. They discover that the optimal time for pilots to nap is early on in the flight, which sustains them throughout the rest of the journey.

When presenting their findings to the Federal Aviation Authority, they propose using the term “prophylactic napping.” However, due to the alpha male culture among pilots, the term is met with inappropriate chuckles and deemed a “no go.”

To make the concept more appealing to the masculine culture, they come up with the term “power naps.” The term “power naps” is chosen not because it reboosts one’s power, but because it resonates better with the pilots’ alpha male mentality.

Optimal Nap Timing for Better Sleep

Huberman discusses the practice of yoga nidra, also known as non-sleep deep rest (NSDR), which involves lying down for 30-60 minutes and progressive relaxation. He believes that the naming of things can be a separator, causing people to misunderstand the practice.

Walker and Huberman explore the idea of biphasic sleep and the importance of nap placement within the day. They suggest that shifting naps a little earlier than the period of first sleepiness could make a meaningful difference in sleep quality.

Walker advises that if napping late in the day leads to difficulty initiating sleep or fragmented sleep during the night, consider moving the nap earlier, such as after lunch. He recommends doing an “on-off-on” experiment to test the effectiveness of this change in nap protocol.

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