One of the key solutions to safety at work or at home is being able to take a powernap when your body needs it most. A powernap is a short 15-20 minute nap that helps revitalize your brain to generate alertness. The powernap protects you from reaching a dangerous level of fatigue in which your body will take the reins and initiate a powernap of its own, the mircosleep. This is a programming of our body, we would rather not have take place when we are driving home, operating machinery or performing other activities that require alertness.
So how do we know we need to take a powernap? and what’s the science behind it? Questions we aim to answer and summarize in this blog post.
The powernap in general is a 20 minute nap, some people take a powernap daily to get through that afternoon dip caused by our body clock. However, we are talking about the powernap that from a safety perspective can save your life. So what is the difference? Well, there is no difference in the nap itself but there is a difference in the state of your body depending on your sleep and nap history. So you could be a regular “powernapper” with the skills to perform it without it affecting your night sleep, or you could be someone who does not take any naps in general and sleeps less than the amount your body requires. So if you are part of the second group, then knowing when to take a powernap is crucial.
Imagine this, you are working regular hours, leaving home from 07:00AM, starting work at 08:00AM and finishing work at 16:30PM and arriving back home between 17:30PM and 18:00PM. The evening is then filled with preparing dinner, having dinner and enjoying the rest of your evening. Let’s say for this case your evening is full of activities, such as sporting, second job, volunteering etc. You then wind down at 23:00PM and fall asleep sometime after midnight. This gives your body about 6 hours of sleep or maybe even less. This goes on for days, maybe even weeks. It all seems to be going well, though as more time passes, the more you realize your mood may start to change, you may become more irritable, you have a frequent feeling of tiredness and low motivation. This feeling however is something you are experiencing daily.
Our body is designed for about 7 hours of sleep, some of us need a bit a more, and others can operate perfectly on less. But for the majority, this is 7 hours. So if your physiology is like that of the majority in our case, you are lending about 1 hour of sleep every single day from your body. This means you are building up a sleep debt. The effects of a sleep debt take some time before surfacing, and it is also quite difficult to tell if you are actually feeling fatigued. The thing is, you don’t perse feel fatigued at the time your body may require a powernap, so that makes it extremely hard for us.
So back to the question, how do we know when to take that powernap? The key is to looking at the signs of fatigue, so your changing mood or constant feeling of tiredness and lack of motivation. If you are experiencing this, then your body is well on its way to being chronically fatigued. In this case a powernap during your natural body clock’s dip, so at around 15:00PM or if you’re on nightshift, around 03:00AM then that would be a good place to start. This is in the event you are not perse feeling the need to sleep but that you are experiencing the overall symptoms of fatigue. This will protect you from developing a point in which a microsleep can creep up on you.
If you are experiencing an acute sensation of sleepiness and are starting to nod off, then take that powernap without delay. Set it for 20 minutes and you will be back up with the energy you need to get you through your drive home, or that last bit of work that needs to be done. Powernaps have the potential to save lives so use them is our advice.
If you are having difficulty in identifying fatigue within yourself try and see if you can match the symptoms related to fatigue to what you are feeling. Fatigue is something that comes from the brain so it is not always visible on the outside. There are however technologies to help assist you. All new cars are fitted with fatigue detection measures to keep you alert on the road so if you have a car that can tell you “Take a coffee break” then be sure to follow the cues to be on the safe side. The WOMBATT-VOZ is also a great tool to predict fatigue, so this tool can really guide you in the ‘When’ to take that powernap. By using a traffic light system you can know when your body needs an urgent powernap, or if it could do with one to simply boost your alertness as a potential ‘Red’ may lie ahead.
The last question is what is the science behind the powernap?
The powernap occurs in the light sleep stage, during this stage it is thought that your brain registers newly acquired information. A fun fact is that Thomas Edison used to take power naps when he was stuck on a problem. His conclusion was that after his nap he would be able to find a solution to his problem prior to the nap. Recent studies have tried to replicate his theory and have found that in fact creativity does increase when people wake up after being in a light sleep and before entering the deep sleep. Edison would hold some marbles in his hand while taking a nap in his chair, as soon as the marbles would hit the floor after he fell asleep, he would immediately awaken again with that burst of creativity. Though powernaps are good for more, they can also boost cognitive performance and memory as well as lowering stress and increasing your mood. All in all a powernap is a very efficient way to make the most out of your day as well as keeping you safe!
However, a powernap is not a substitute for adequate sleep. So improve your overall sleep quality and a powernap can in that case just be an added value from time to time and if adequate sleep is difficult then it will get you through the acute fatigue occurrences so that you can follow up to provide your body with adequate sleep again.
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