There aren’t many famous inventors behind most aspects of sleep. There’s no Thomas Edison of snoring. There’s no Nikola Tesla of insomnia or Eli Whitney of counting sheep.
There is, however, one notable exception to the lack of sleep auteurs: James Maas, the inventor of the power nap. He coined the term in the 1970s to illustrate the benefits of short spurts of sleep. But inventing the power nap is only one among Maas’s many contributions to psychology and the science of sleep. As a professor at Cornell University, Maas had to teach his Psych 101 in a concert hall to accommodate the 1,600-student class size; his claims to the world’s record for university teaching is hard to dispute.
In his work as a sleep consultant, Maas has given presentations such as “Everything You Wanted to Know About Sleep But Were Too Tired to Ask” to audiences ranging from cruise ship passengers to Fortune 500 company CEOs and professional athletes. In his speeches and books, Maas says current society as chronically under rested and urges the use of naps to restore alertness and promote better health and general well being.
Van Winkle’s spoke with Maas about how he’s working to make lives better, one nap at a time.
Naming the Power Nap
“I was giving seminars once a month at IBM’s executive development center in the 1970s. We were talking about power breakfasts and power lunches and I coined the term power nap with those guys and gals. Then it was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. “
On Defining the Power Nap
“The power nap lasts anywhere from 15 minutes to 30 minutes. It takes place in the middle of the day, during the dip in the circadian rhythm of alertness. It’s enough to restore energy for the rest of the day. Any longer and you’ll wake up groggy, unless it’s a full 90 minutes — but then it will interfere with your ability to sleep at night. The power nap is kind of a short restoration period.”
How the Power Nap Became More Powerful
“At first, I thought it would just restore energy to your prior levels. And since that time it’s been clearly demonstrated that a power nap will boost your immune system. It lowers stress and reduces the risk for a heart attack or a stroke. It will reverse the hormonal impact of a night of poor sleep. It restores biomarkers of neuroendocrine and immune health to normal levels. It lowers your blood pressure. All sorts of wonderful things happen to promote better health, performance, alertness and operational settings.
Interestingly, a study recently in japan found that along with moderate exercises, and this is for older adults, a 30-minute nap can increase the quality of your nighttime sleep as well as decrease daytime grogginess. “
The Importance of Timing Your Power Naps Properly
“The best time for this circadian timing is the early afternoon. It varies from individual to individual but all of us have a little midday dip, usually between one and three in the afternoon, in our alertness. You can either try to work through that by going for a walk in the sunlight or chewing gum or whatever. For some reason after that period passes, you become more alert. You don’t have to fall asleep but if you meditate or just relax with your eyes closed, or listen to light classical music or what have you, it seems to not only restore the levels but boost immune levels and neuroendocrine function. It’s a very healthy thing to do.
There was a study years ago of executives in Greece who napped on a regular basis and they found they lowered their risk or heart attack and stroke by 30 percent compared to people who did not nap during the day.”
Why Caffeine and Alcohol Are the Enemies of Sleep
“Caffeine during the day can rob you of as much as an hour of sleep at night if you drink it after two in the afternoon. The same applies to alcohol when you drink it within three hours of bedtime. Alcohol helps you go to sleep but 90 minutes later you’re going to be disturbed during REM sleep. Alcohol in large amounts is not a sedative; it’s a stimulant.”
How Sleep Gives Athletes an Edge
“I am very much in support of taking a nap before a game. But you shouldn’t take a long nap. Just take a short one. Depending on the time of the game, the nature of the game and the location of the game, we do a lot of work with exposing them to bright daylight spectrum light or keep them in the dark before a game depending on where they are.
I was a sleep coach for both the Jets and the Dolphins in October, when they played at Wembley Stadium. I said to the Dolphins, look, you’re going over there and you’re playing in a seven-hour time difference in the winter. They said they’d been over there before and we know what we’re doing. The jets said tell us everything you know. We equipped every player with a portable light book and a schedule of when to expose themselves to the books.
The Jets scored every time they had the ball. Television broadcasters and the New York Times said that the Miami Dolphins looked like a bunch of junior high school kids that were lost on the field. My favorite comment was a broadcaster who said the sleep doctor for the New York Jets is a genius.
Athletes need about nine-and-a-quarter hours of sleep to bring their A-game and they average about six. They don’t realize the value of sleep or don’t realize how adrenaline is works on them after a game. They play video games until 2 in the morning or have a drink. They’re just completely unaware of the deleterious consequences. “
Why Sleep Was a Big Factor in the Downfall of the 2014 U.S. Hockey Team
“The Canadian men’s hockey team went to Sochi with the NHL break for the Olympics. They only had 48 hours before the first game in Sochi but had to cross ten time zones. That means 10 days it would take normally to adapt and it had to be done in 48 hours. We did it by giving them all light books and gave them 36 gold medals. They won every game.
The American men’s Olympic team decided they’d try it, too. But once they got to Sochi they thought they were adapted now after the first game and stopped using the lights. The minute they stopped, they started to lose.”