Monthly Archives: July 2009

Power Naps: Put them in your toolbox.

A few days ago I was feeling quite drowsy and kind of “blah” all afternoon.  After work I lay down and napped for a mere 6 minutes.  My alarm went off, and I popped up, feeling incredible!  Then I  did a little dance, rapidly punched the air around me a bunch of times, and went about my evening feeling totally awesome. It was amazing, and it inspired me to finally write this entry on power naps.

If you’ve never experienced the joy (and sometimes pure exhilaration) of a successful power nap, it’s like nothing else.   Power naps can reduce burnout and stress and increase alertness, energy level, mood, cognition, memory, and creativity, all of which can have a positive influence on other aspects of your life, your job, relationships, etc.  But first, what is a power nap?


Simply put, power naps are short naps, with a strong emphasis on “short”.  They can last anyway from 2-3 minutes to 30 minutes.  Basically, you need only enough time to fall asleep, and give your brain and body a rest, a chance to restart/reboot.  It’s actually quite similar to restarting a computer that is lagging.

The single most important thing when power napping is not to oversleep.  Once you’ve gone past the 30 minute mark you are in danger of death.  Just kidding! But, you are in danger of feeling even more tired, and extremely groggy.  Again, the trick is in the brevity of the power nap.

However, some research revealed even greater improvements in task performance after a 1 hour nap.  They found that 1 hour long naps allow for up to 4 times as much “slow wave sleep” the type of sleep that they say is characteristic of memory consolidation, learning and restoring perceptual processing.

In my modest opinion, a nap that lasts more than 20 minutes has three major downfalls: 1. you have a greater chance of “sleep inertia” (waking up groggy and not being able to pull yourself out it).  2.  You’ve defeated some of the purpose of the power nap, in that it really doesn’t take up much of your time and 3. if 10 or 15 minutes isn’t enough and you feel like you need an hour nap that probably means that you aren’t getting enough rest at night and that you really just need to adjust your nighttime sleep habits.

In any case, you need to find out what works best for you.  Some people take more time to fall asleep and just won’t get anything out of a 5 minute nap.  For me, I can set my alarm to go off 8 minutes later, take 1-3 minutes to fall asleep and get in a quick dream, and wake up feeling amazing.  This is inline with Lahl et al. (2008) who found that even 6 minutes of sleep can be beneficial.   But what is it about power naps that works so well and feels so good?

The power in power naps have a number of explanations.  Researchers at NIMH suggest that much the fatigue or “burn out” we experience mid-day has to do with vision.  As we work, the visual cortex becomes loaded with information that is need of processing, and memory consolidation.  They suggest that burnout is the brains mechanism for limiting any further influx of information so that the work we have already done can be successfully consolidated in memory.

Another explanation of the benefits of power naps is that they have been shown to decrease levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.  Allowing cortisol levels to return to baseline can have wide-ranging impacts on your mood, breathing, heart rate, muscle tension, digestion and more.  I had hoped to find more research on the biochemical and hormonal changes that occur as a result of power napping, but was unable to find it…  From my experience I feel an increased alertness so intense that it can’t be explained by resting the visual cortex or a decrease in some hormone.  I would suspect that some surge in adrenaline or epinephrine may be involved.  If anyone knows of this sort of research, I’d love to see it.

It might take some practice, but once mastered, power naps are a wonderful tool, whether it be during the work day, or a Friday evening before you go out for the night.  And, power naps are healthier and more effective than any amount of caffeine.    This lady is not nearly pumped up enough about the effectiveness of power naps.  Probably because if she was smiling this picture would be way to ridiculous.



Clean Air Council’s Clinician Outreach: Air Pollution and Respiratory Health

I feel blessed to have a job that compliments my graduate school education and my current research (Life Stress, Social Problem Solving and Asthma) and fulfills my general desire to promote public health.    This post highlights a new and exciting program that I am leading at CAC.

CAC logo

Clinician Outreach and Education: Air Pollution and Respiratory Health

A central component to successful asthma control is removal and avoidance of environmental triggers.  However, one study (Kilpatrick et al. 2002) revealed that only 1 in 5 physicians who see patients with health issues related to environmental exposures have been trained in conducting environmental trigger assessments.

That being the case, Pennsylvania’s Clean Air Council has started a program through which physicians, nurses, medical students, etc are educated on the types and sources of air pollution, how air pollution negatively impacts health (immune system, respiratory and cardiovascular health in particular) and what steps can be taken to mitigate exposure.  In addition, clinicians will be informed of ways they can be advocates for their patients outside the office.

A visit to a clinic or specialist should include a comprehensive assessment of the patient’s indoor and outdoor environment and communication of solutions to mitigate exposure.  Without these it is unlikely that the patient is receiving the best possible care.  Care providers have the opportunity (and responsibility, in my opinion) to express the importance of environmental triggers and provide solutions.  Through this outreach, Clean Air Council hopes to enable practitioners to increase their ability to individualize treatment plans thereby improving outcomes.   Providing these recommendations can serve as preventative care measures making asthma attacks less likely, and potentially reducing the amount of medication necessary to control their condition.

If you would like more information about this outreach project, or general information on air pollution, environmental triggers please contact me at smccormick (at)


Pennsylvania’s Clean Air Council (Philadelphia)

Environmental Protection Agency

Nationwide Daily Air Quality Index Reports

American Lung Association

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Respiratory Health)

Asthma Wiki

The McCormick Health and Wellness Blog Summer 2009 Kick-Off

Health Research articles, news, and fascinations are everywhere.  This blog will serve as a fast, easy, and accessible format in which to corral bits of research and science that I find particularly relevant or intriguing.  Want to join in?!  Go for it!  Comments are open.

Here is what I am thinking for topics to really start things off:

Air Pollution and Respiratory Health: partially in conjunction my work on asthma at the Clean Air Council.

Power naps!:  They can be quick, restorative, and sometimes almost exhilarating.  Some biophysical considerations might be interesting.  Any takers?

Either way, I think there’s more to come!

-Sean McCormick

Asthma Project Coordinator

Clean Air Council

Philadelphia, PA