I just ended a vacation with my family; our 21-month-old still takes a daily nap, so my wife and I discussed napping regularly. On one of the occasions where we kept her up a little bit too long, she fell asleep on me. This prompted me to think about how our society puts an emphasis on naps for our children, but naps are mostly shunned in adulthood.
I’ve always been a napper. In high school, I had a tendency to fall asleep in class — I did this so frequently that I won the superlative “Most Likely to Fall Asleep in Class” my senior year. The unintended napping continued throughout college and even business school. In fact, I was once written up in the weekly newspaper for my regular naps in Accounting class, which of course came right after lunch. I had mixed feelings about this napping habit; on the one hand, I felt it was rude to my teachers and fellow classmates (fortunately, there was no snoring involved!). But on the other hand, I would always pop up after about five to 10 minutes, fresh and ready to take in all those great Accounting lessons! Nevertheless, my unintended naps ended once I figured out what coffee was in my late 20s and frankly, I mostly saw it as a sign of weakness. I felt like every moment of the day had to be “directly” productive to advancing my goals. It has taken awhile for me to understand all the “indirect” means of increasing productivity. As my favorite podcast host, Michael Hyatt, says, “The secret to becoming more productive is not managing your time but your energy.”
Many very successful world and business leaders incorporated a nap as a key component of their day, so don’t feel so bad if and when you doze off for a quick “power” nap during the day. Here is a quick list:
- Leonardo da Vinci took multiple naps a day and slept less at night.
- Physicist Albert Einstein napped each day — on top of getting 10 hours of sleep each night.
- Though Thomas Edison was embarrassed about his napping habit, he also practiced his ritual daily.
- Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, boosted her energy by napping before speaking engagements.
- President John F. Kennedy ate his lunch in bed and then settled in for a nap — every day!
- Oil industrialist and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller napped every afternoon in his office.
- Winston Churchill’s afternoon nap was a nonnegotiable. He believed it helped him get twice as much done each day.
- Though criticized for it, President Ronald Reagan famously took naps as well.
The Benefits of Naps
Naps are known to have the following benefits.
Restoring alertness. Recall my story about falling asleep in class, which usually happened after lunch. The few minutes before falling asleep, I was completely unproductive and didn’t comprehend much of the lecture. A quick nap always brought me right back up to speed. The National Sleep Foundation recommends a short nap of 20 to 30 minutes “for improved alertness and performance without leaving you feeling groggy or interfering with nighttime sleep.” Here’s a brief video that explains the science behind short naps (10 to 30 minutes).
Preventing burnout. I read a great book a few years back called Born to Run, which documented the unique life of the Tarahumara Native Americans in Mexico and their running culture. They are able to run incredible distances each day (mostly barefoot), but I recall very clearly in the book that when they weren’t running or working, they were resting (napping actually) during the day. Think about those “lazy” lions that you see sleeping all day as they save their energy for the hunt. Ultimately, we were not meant to race without rest. Speaking from experience, being at a constant race pace leads to stress, frustration and burnout. I typically get sick when I don’t slow things down.
Heightening sensory perception. According to Dr. Sara C. Mednick, author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life, napping can restore the sensitivity of sight, hearing and taste. Napping also improves your creativity by relaxing your mind and allowing new associations to form in it. When it came to making new connections, nappers had the edge in research done by the City University of New York.
Reducing the risk of heart disease. Did you know those who take a midday siesta at least three times a week are 37 percent less likely to die of heart disease? Working men are 64 percent less likely! It’s true, according to a 2007 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. “Taking a nap could turn out to be an important weapon in the fight against coronary mortality,” said Dimitrios Trichopoulos of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, who led the study.
Improving productivity. Numerous studies have shown workers becoming increasingly unproductive as the day wears on. But Harvard University researchers demonstrated a 30-minute nap boosted the performance of workers, returning their productivity to beginning-of-the-day levels. I noticed on the weekends while training for the Ironman that if I took a short a nap either right after my workout or right after lunch, it was the difference between being “useful” and “useless” at home.
So, I think it’s pretty clear that napping should be a net-positive in your life. Admittedly, I have let my ego probably get in the way of practicing this more. I have spoken a lot about the benefits of sleep and meditation or other relaxing exercises, so there is no reason napping should not be added to the list. We have to be constantly diligent about our well-being if we are not only going to participate in the marathon of life, but also get stronger as the “race” goes on.
I would love to hear your thoughts on napping. Please share.