Time for a Nap!

I’m all in favor of naps.

I get up very early, in the wee hours before dawn, so I can do my meditation and set my intention for the day before the phone rings, the texts ping, and the emails come flooding in, before meetings and more meetings, before teaching energy medicine and shooting videos on energy healing.

I’ve found that a brief, 15 or 20 minute “cat nap” can reset your physiology and allow you to start the day anew. Especially if taken not too late in the day, preferably before noon.

I’ve got really good company in thinking that naps are, indeed, the cat’s meow. Winston Churchill would often get into bed, and take a nap in the afternoon. He said, “Nature has not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts twenty minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.”

John F. Kennedy used to take naps after lunch for an hour or two. He was very particular about keeping his room dark and making sure there were no distractions. He was also famous for taking 10 minute naps on the run, between engagements. Other presidents with the nap habit were Lyndon B. Johnson, who called it the key to his “two-shift day,” and Ronald Reagan, who laughingly said that his cabinet chair should have the inscription: “Ronald Reagan Slept Here.” Bill Clinton was able to fall asleep while leaning against a wall if necessary. He said that fifteen minutes to a half-hour nap made a huge difference. As First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt took naps before speaking engagements to give herself an energy boost, while Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, had a regularly scheduled hour-long nap every afternoon.

Thomas Edison had a few bright ideas while napping, such as the light bulb, the phonograph, and the video camera. Naps were a necessity as he usually only logged about three or four hours of sleep at night. He proclaimed he slept “as sound as a bug” during his naps.

The list goes on: Napoleon Bonaparte often went days without a good night’s sleep, and so relied on naps. War is disruptive to sound sleep. Stonewall Jackson was able to take a nap anywhere at all during the Civil War. He was also known to take five minute breaks to “rest his eyes.” And Captain of Industry, John D. Rockefeller, napped in his office every afternoon.

Perhaps the most unusual napper was Salvador Dali, whose naps were as surreal as his paintings. While sitting in a chair, he’d hold a heavy metal key between his thumb and forefinger. There was an upside down plate on the floor under his hand. As he fell asleep, the key would fall and clatter on the plate, waking him up. He was sure his best ideas came at the edge of sleep, and this practice increased his creativity. He claimed that this “slumber with a key” had been learned from Capuchin monks. Albert Einstein also “napped” this way. Today, this is called a “hypnogogic” nap, which means that before Stage 2 sleep sets in, the mind can unlock the free flow of creative thinking.

Leonardo da Vinci—how in the world did he do everything he did? By taking 15-minute naps every four hours. This pattern is known as the “sleep of genius.”

But what about grabbing a nap in your crazy, hectic, life? You can do it! For being more alert, a 15 to 30-minute nap is ideal. It can be a planned nap, especially if you know you’ll be up later than usual that night; emergency napping, when you are so tired your eyes start to close (especially important—if that happens while driving, pull off the road and take a quick 5- to 10-minute nap); or habitual napping, like those famous people who scheduled naps as a regular part of their day.

If you have a cat at home, you are very familiar with cat naps. Actually, more than 85% of mammals are “polyphasic” sleepers, which means that they sleep throughout the day for short periods. I know we humans were meant to do the same.

So take a nap. It will help you be more alert, decrease accidents, enhance your performance, raise your happiness level and make you look and feel younger. A NASA study on military pilots and astronauts found that their performance improved by 34% after a short nap. Just think what it can do for you!

Deborah King