In Praise of Napping

Today is National Napping Day, a day created by Camille and Dr. William Anthony in 1999 to spotlight the healthy benefits of catching up on quality sleep. Dr. Anthony noted: “We chose this particular Monday because Americans (and Canadians) are more ‘nap-ready’ than usual after losing an hour of sleep to daylight saving time.”

The benefits of napping are many, among them improvements in mental health and working memory (the ability to focus on one task while retaining others in memory) and reduction of coronary mortality. In a recent Greek study, researchers discovered that participants taking daily naps had a 37% less chance of contracting a fatal heart condition.

There is, however, one major disadvantage to napping: A nap is not a permanent solution to reaching daily sleep quotas. Sleep specialist Dr. David Dinges notes: “Naps cannot replace adequate recovery sleep over many days.”

Also, long naps (more than 30 minutes) can result in sleep inertia. As these nappers awaken from deep periods of sleep, they can experience grogginess and disorientation. While these feelings will dissipate within thirty minutes, they can affect performance in high-level tasks.

Afraid of being labeled lazy and slothful, some nappers downplay or conceal this daily practice. Non-nappers hesitate to start the practice, fearing they will develop some form of sleep inertia.

Wherever you are on this continuum, take a few minutes and read about ten high-powered historical figures who celebrated their napping and resulting productivity.

Winston Churchill

Sir Winston regarded a nap between lunch and dinner as essential for maintaining the kind of clear thinking he employed during World War II. In The Gathering Storm, he wrote: “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.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Coleridge took what can be considered one of the most famous naps in English literature. After waking up from a three-hour nap, he stumbled to his desk and penned the poem, “Kubla Khan.” He believed in seizing the thread of a dream immediately upon awakening and then taking action.

Leonardo Da Vinci

While painting the Mona Lisa, Da Vinci slept only hours each night and took 15-minute naps every four hours. He criticized people who slept long hours each evening, commenting that there’s plenty of time to sleep when we die.

Salvador Dali

The founder of the micro-nap or what he called “slumber with a key,” Catalan artist Salvador Dali napped to stimulate his creativity. He started by sitting upright in an armchair, holding a heavy metal key in his hand. He then placed a metal plate upside down underneath the hand holding the key. Once that was in place, he allowed himself to fall asleep. Once that happened, he dropped the key which hit the plate and made a loud noise. All of this occurred within one-quarter of a second, enough time to revive his physical and psychic being.

Thomas Edison

All that Edison could manage was three to four hours of sleep each night. To compensate and inspire creativity, he power napped throughout the day, adopting a variation of Salvador Dali’s method. Edison held a handful of ball bearings that would clatter to the floor and wake him.

Albert Einstein

Einstein claimed that he needed 10 hours of sleep each night and frequent naps throughout the day. Like Salvador Dali, he practiced micro-napping; each nap lasted only seconds and was designed to boost creativity.

John F. Kennedy

President Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy enjoyed a one- to two-hour nap each afternoon. Blinds were drawn, and no interruptions were allowed; his staff had strict orders not to disturb him for any reason.

Napoleon

While Napoleon could go for days without lying down for a full night’s sleep, he had the ability to fall asleep at the drop of a hat. Right before battle, he would sleep like a baby, oblivious to approaching cannons. After the battle was over, he would sleep for eighteen hours.

Eleanor Roosevelt

One of the most influential First Ladies in U.S. history, Mrs. Roosevelt sat on committees and gave speeches. Before each speech or public talk, she would sneak in a nap to refresh her mind and body.

Margaret Thatcher

During her tenure as Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher slept four to five hours each night and had a scheduled one-hour nap each afternoon. No one dared disturb her during that time.

Happy National Napping Day!


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The Iron Lady

I wasn’t surprised when Meryl Streep received this year’s Oscar for Best Actress. She delivers an outstanding performance as Margaret Thatcher in the film, The Iron Lady. She has captured  all the nuances of the most famous and most controversial living Englishwoman.

But I was disappointed in the film. It focuses, too much I believe, on Lady Thatcher’s continuing battle with dementia. Based around a series of imagined conversations with her dead husband, she appears as a frail, confused woman. Everything and everyone in the movie is shown though her distorted vision.

Too much is packed into this script and we are given only fleeting glimpses of Lady Thatcher’s rise to power. I would have liked to have seen more footage of the early days of her career and less emphasis on the hallucinations of an aging, reclusive widow.

I can understand why the film was criticized in Britain. Her family, friends and supporters would find it very difficult to sit through many of the scenes in this film.