Naps

This is a sonnet about naps. Naps are not only worthwhile, restorative, and fun, but they are also a valuable part of the creative process.

There is something about a nap that combines a return to childhood, an invitation to waste time productively with all the delicious contradictions implied therein, and the attractive opportunity to overpower a master as powerful as time with nothing more substantial than a pillow.

Ten-minute power naps reboot the creative process or put fresh wind in your sails. A twenty-minute nap can catch you up from a bumpy night of sleep. When you add more time, things get worse. A thirty-minute nap can leave you feeling like you started the day over. They are disorienting. After an hour, I wake up more tired than I started. It’s impossible to do anything without an illicit late-afternoon cup of coffee, which affects my sleep, which makes me need a nap the next day, beginning what I can only call a vicious cycle of napping. Avoid.

The trick to skillful napping is to limit your sleep duration to the shortest useful time possible. This means training yourself to drop off, go deep fast, and wake in ten minutes, twenty at the most. Study cats for clues. They are the masters. Also, study koalas if you can make the trip to Australia. If you can’t do that, study Salvador Dali, who was said to start a nap holding a spoon in his hand. When he fell asleep, he dropped the spoon and woke up. Neat trick. He also painted melting clocks as you may remember.

There is solid research on the value of naps. When you’re stuck on an idea and have journaled yourself into oblivion, try a nap. You will wake with a better idea. Naps, especially a power nap of ten minutes or so, put you in a valuable state between sleep and waking. Your mind becomes dis-inhibited, more inclined to let in new ideas. It’s close to the results you get from drinking a beer or a glass of wine to move your thoughts around, but without the social stigma of taking a snort in the middle of the day. Tell somebody you took a nap in the middle of the day. Watch their reaction. You will be envied. Everybody understands naps.

We’ve all read about people who can nap by leaning against a wall, or on cargo planes rattling with cold winds, or during overlong operas, or during the shortest of cab rides. Navy SEALS are taught to sleep standing up while they are carried along by two other SEALS on night patrol. There’s no need to be heroic or show-offy about your naps. Closing and locking your office door will do. Pretending to meditate also works.

Credit goes to Austin Kleon, whose blog gave me the idea for this essay. He recommends the caffeine nap, as do I. He writes, “Drink a cup of coffee and lie down for fifteen minutes. Keep your notebook handy.”

Thanks for reading, 

Lee