To Nap or Not to Nap?

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  • February 22, 2016

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.”

Famous Nappers

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.

 

About Todd Zipper

President & Chief Executive Officer

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9 Comments on "To Nap or Not to Nap?"

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1 year 3 months ago

I actually toyed with the idea of becoming polyphasic sleeper.
It’s basically when you spread your sleep out over time with or without a “core sleep” time at night.
Here is some more about it:
http://lifehacker.com/5302591/implement-advanced-siestas-for-improved-sleep

I’ll fess up. Last week I took a good nap on the third floor during my lunch break. I found two nice comfy chairs over on the dark side where support used to be. Set my alarm and it was real nice.

I vote for these: http://www.boredpanda.com/nap-desk-sleeping-at-work-studio-nl-greece/

Todd Zipper
9 months 29 days ago

Well done Mike. I took a five minute nap on Sunday before my five hour drive back from my son’s camp. It made a drive that would have been sleepy to awake. Benefits of naps are endless!

Jesseca
1 year 3 months ago

I love this post! I love naps, but if I take too many I can’t sleep at night, so they are a sort of delicacy for me.

As Todd pointed out, napping is one of the potential benefits of working from home. I could nap every day if that was what worked best for me, which is awesome.

I love that flexibility is such a big part of our culture! It is a very positive trend.

Leia
1 year 3 months ago

Working in Enrollment we have two 15 minute open times a day! Sometimes when I find myself needing a small nap, I will close my eyes and fold down onto my blanket for 15 minutes. I try to block out all the noise and light. This always helps perk me up and I find myself more productive afterwards!

Chase
1 year 3 months ago

Has anyone tried (long or short term) polyphasic sleep? Or does anyone listen to delta waves when sleeping? Just want to know if there is anyone out there!

1 year 3 months ago

I have considered it after reading an article on lifehacker about it. I have taken a nap during a lunch break before (I have been doing intermittent fasting so I don’t waste any time eating during my lunch).

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