Anne here, posing the question, “What do Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, Napoleon, Yogi Berra, Salvador Dali, Gene Autry, Eleanor Roosevelt, JFK, John D. Rockefeller and Leonardo Da Vinci have in common?”
You’ve probably guessed, being smart cookies and noticing the heading for this blog and putting two and two together — yes, they all famously took naps.
Thomas Edison worked for long stretches, and often boasted that he only spelt 4 or 5 hours a night, but he took frequent naps of 3 or 4 hours. He had no trouble falling asleep and could sleep anywhere.
Napleon was a famous cat-napper and when necessary could go days without a full night’s sleep.
Winston Churchill took a 2 hour nap in the middle of the day, and worked late into the night, claiming he got nearly twice as much done that way. Napping was so important to him that he kept a bed for the purpose in Parliament House.
I must confess naps elude me. I’ve never found it easy to take a nap, though I’ve tried often enough. A good friend of mine naps regularly — just lies down, goes to sleep almost instantly and wakes up 15 or 30 minutes later, energized and fresh as a daisy. Not me. Mostly I lie there not-napping. The few times I’ve succeeded, it took me ages to get to sleep and when I woke again, I was more like a grouchy thistle than a fresh, bright daisy.
So many countries, especially in warm climates, allow for naps in their routine, and yet in our culture, for anyone other than little kids or the elderly, taking naps is somehow frowned on. I remember my first experience of the generalized siesta, where most things closed for the afternoon, was in Spain. For the first few days I didn't quite know what to do with myself — I could walk (humming mad dogs and Englishmen) but most touristy things were shut. So I decided when in Spain.... and I went back to the pensione where I was staying and tried to nap, though without success. So I read for a few hours instead, and found that pretty enjoyable, too, but I hadn't had lunch, and by the time the restaurants opened it was pretty late and I was very hungry. But I soon adjusted and now I’d love to be able to take a regular afternoon nap. It seems a civilized thing to do, as well as being healthy.
“Healthy?” you ask. “Don’t you mean lazy?”
Not at all. As well as those listed above, loads of famous over-achievers took naps, and all of them claimed they were much more productive, as a result. The scientists back up their claims.
It’s been well established by numerous studies that naps can improve certain memory functions, can boost a person’s performance, restores alertness, improves motor skills, relieves stress, helps with brain overload, can improve mood, is good for your heart, can restore the sensitivity of your sight, hearing and taste, it encourages creativity and, as many of our famous overachievers asserted, it increases your productivity. Studies also suggest napping might help you to live longer.
Cat-nap, power nap or long nap?
As for how long a nap should be, it depends on what you want and what suits you. Some studies have shown that long naps are more effective than short ones, but other experts suggest a 20-30 minute nap is the optimum. It seems that each individual needs to work out the optimum length of nap time for him or herself.
JFK would nap for one or two hours each day. Yogi Berra once quipped, "I take a two-hour nap, from 1 o'clock to 4." Salvador Dali famously took numerous extremely short naps through the day — he’d take a nap while holding something like a metal key or a spoon in his hand. When he fell asleep, the metal thing would drop from his hand, clatter to the floor and wake him from his nap.
Naps of different lengths provide different benefits. A short nap of 20-30 minutes will enhance alertness, concentration, mood and coordination. Longer naps of around 90 minutes or so will enhance creativity. Which I think means, as a writer, if I’m napping, I’m working, yes? :)
So I’m determined to practice the art of napping. Every day, from about 3 in the afternoon until about 5.00, I’m not good for anything much. It’s when I go to the supermarket, or do something mindless — avoid housework, that kind of thing. We all, apparently tend to do this, fade out at some part of the day. It’s normal. And it’s your ideal nap time.
Tips for napping:
To nap most effectively, you should lie down, preferably in the dark and preferably with a blanket or covering. If you’re in an area where there’s a lot of distracting noise, white noise can help you — turn on a fan, a recording of a babbling brook wind in the trees or something like that. A friend of mine downloaded a white noise app to his phone and plays that whenever he's away from home and it always helps him drop off.
If you’re wired with caffeine, you’ll find napping hard, so you’ll need to plan your coffee, tea or cola drinks in advance — they can stay in the system for up to six hours. Interestingly, you can drink coffee immediately before you nap, and it won’t stop you napping because it takes about 45 minutes for the caffeine to kick in, by which time, you’ll be awake again.
And strangely, it will help you to nap if you set an alarm to wake you up. That way you can relax completely without worrying about oversleeping.
So what about you — do you enjoy the occasional nap, or do you, like me, struggle? Would you like it if the business world allowed people to stop for a nap each afternnon? How did you find your first experience of a "siesta" culture?