Feeling unproductive in the afternoon? Take a nap

The productivity benefits of afternoon napping

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Photo by Lauren Kay on Unsplash

Afternoon sleepiness has always been one of my greatest productivity struggles.

Because I start work early, the combination of lunch, slow work, and general drowsiness always killed at least an hour or two of my workday.

Back when I was in the office, I had no choice but to power through it with another cup of coffee.

But remote work has allowed me to try and tackle this problem head-on, and I’ve come up with a solution that you’ve probably known since elementary school.

Take a nap.

Naps have amazing benefits, and it can be a possible solution to your productivity woes that you haven’t even realized.

But to understand why, we first need to discuss what saps your afternoon productivity.

So why are your afternoons so unproductive?

There are a few factors that affect most people.

First is your natural circadian rhythm. According to the National Sleep Foundation, there are two periods of time where you feel the strongest urge to sleep: 4–6 AM and 1–3 PM. But that’s not all.

Second, you’re may be over-eating or dehydrated during lunchtime. A carb-heavy meal such as a big plate of pasta or pizza can often drain your energy as your body needs it to digest the meal.

In addition, you may be dehydrated as your body needs to digest not only lunch but has to deal with dehydrators such as caffeine.

But these are only factors that deal with physical drowsiness: there are some mental factors to consider as well.

Age plays a certain factor: Overall mental performance and alertness decrease in the afternoon for older adults compared to younger adults.

But so do the mental demands of your work.

Memory consolidation, which allows you to retain information long-term, and working memory, performing a task while keeping other tasks in mind, decrease in the afternoon, often depending on how mentally challenging your work is.

But there’s one factor which often compounds a lot of these issues: you’re not getting enough sleep.

It’s one of the most common pieces of advice out there. The average American sleeps about 6–7 hours when we need between 7–9 hours.

I don’t want to dwell on your nighttime habits too much: I just want to point out that the average person is sleep-deprived, if only by a little bit.

But this lack of sleep can affect attention spans and cognitive ability, not to mention working memory and information retention.

So why not augment your night-time sleep with naps?

NASA found that pilots allowed to take 40-minute naps boosted productivity by 34% and alertness by 54%.

Not to mention the boost in working memory, the ability to retain information, being able to regulate your mood, and ‘cure’ mental fatigue.

It’s even said that napping provides more benefits than caffeine for learning purposes.

The debate rages on as to how long a nap is ideal for maximum productivity, but there are some guidelines on how to approach naps:

  • If you’re worried about not being able to sleep at night, limit your naps to 30 minutes or less. These power naps won’t make you groggy as you don’t have time to drop into a deep sleep.
  • If you’re trying to make up sleep debt (i.e. you didn’t sleep enough last night) or want to better regulate your emotions, a 60 to 90-minute nap can offer a complete refresh.
  • If you want a balance of both, 45-minute naps (per NASA) can offer additional benefits

So naps offer several benefits, but one of the questions that come with this is how exactly you’re supposed to do this.

After all, work environments are not exactly conducive to sleep. And few things are worse than spending the 15–20 minutes you set aside for napping trying to get comfortable and sleep.

That’s where my secret weapon, binaural beats, comes into play.

I find that these allow me to quickly drop into a relaxed and restful state, so I can nap for most of the time I set for myself.

I now find myself using my lunch break to eat food, digest, and then take a quick power nap before being a lot more productive in the afternoon.

So if you find yourself struggling to remain productive during the afternoon slump, take a nap. You might just find your more productive self once you wake up.

I write about UX, Healthcare, and Productivity regularly. If you would like to learn more about UX, I’ve created courses about Design Communication and UX Research on a budget.

Written by

Healthcare-focused UX designer and researcher. Creator of two online courses on design communication and UX research planning: https://tinyurl.com/y5m2j42v

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