Jet lag is an experience that unites frequent travelers the world over. We’ve all endured it at some point. And while there’s no cure, you can tap into a free and underrated tool to jumpstart your internal battery and get back on the road in no time: the power nap.
Favored by renowned minds from politicians to academics and artists – Sir Winston Churchill and Salvidor Dali were just two devotees of the daytime doze – the humble nap is like a fast-charge for your brain, and its benefits can be felt in as little as 15 minutes.
As regular travelers know, jet lag occurs when your regular sleep patterns are disturbed, often by long flights or crossing multiple time zones. Irritability and poor concentration are just two of the common symptoms.
But rather than staring at the ceiling all night or staggering around Paris feeling like a zombie, a quick nap could be just what your body needs.
Dr. Stephen Jasper from Torrens University Australia swears by this energizing technique, with the ability to enjoy a well-timed snooze or siesta almost like a superpower for frequent travelers.
After criss-crossing the world and experiencing his fair share of restless nights and fuzzy-brain days in a former career, Dr Jasper devoted his PhD to studying the effects of time zone differences and jet lag, earning him the nickname of ‘The Jet Lag Guy’.
“What emerged was we know what jet lag is and how to treat it, yet no one seems to be doing it,” explains Dr Jasper, before reminiscing about a grueling three-day Sydney to Buenos Aires return trip – and resulting jet lag – that prompted his investigations.
Some of the chief weapons in our jet lag-beating arsenal are pre-trip sleep adjustments, light therapy, and melatonin, plus simply powering through the day until you can sleep at the right local time. Dr. Jasper believes power naps deserve a place on that list too.
“One of the things that happens when traveling is a ‘sleep deficit’. Having a power nap can really help that. Those short, sharp naps – even ones that only go for 15 to 20 minutes – are like a lightning recharge for your batteries.”
When shifting through multiple time zones, Dr. Jasper suggests a quick nap can help boost your mental clarity, as well as improve your cognitive performance and logical reasoning.
Finding the sweet spot
Sleep is a very individual thing. Knowing and understanding your own sleep cycle and working with it, rather than trying to fight it or modify it, is the secret, according to Dr. Jasper.
The post postprandial slump between 2pm and 4pm, commonly referred to as 3:30-itis – yes, it’s a real thing – is considered the best time for a power nap, as it’s not too early or late in the day.
“In terms of the sweet spot, I’d recommend you probably wouldn’t go over an hour, as there’s a danger your nap can turn into a marathon. 15-20 minutes is a good, refreshing nap.”
That said, everyone’s needs are different and it takes trial and error to learn what works for you.
Rather than go it alone in the quest to find your personal napping sweet spot, there are several power nap apps specifically designed to help you perfect this healthy habit, and you can even try them at home before you jet off.
Some popular power nap apps include:
Tips to successfully power nap
Whether you’re aiming for a quick jumpstart or a longer one hour reinvigoration, there are a few essential ways to improve your chances of getting some shut-eye during the day:
- Choose your time carefully – early to mid afternoon is the general recommendation
- Make the space as dark as possible; sunlight streaming in only keeps you awake
- Try not to nap when you’re ravenously hungry, or after you’ve just had a big lunch
- Get the temperature levels right – as Goldilocks says, ‘not too hot or too cold’
Most importantly, set an alarm. Waking up five hours later is not going to be much help.