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.
– Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister of the U.K.
After graduating from UC Davis back in 1985, I remained at Davis and spent the following year working full-time at the School of Law’s library to save money and apply to volunteer organizations. I was bored to tears collecting, shelving, and cataloging books, and replacing old book spine labels with new ones. Boredom made me drowsy and I often fought back yawns by midday. A co-worker friend and I discovered a small room connected to the rarely used downstairs bathroom. It had a single piece of furniture in the middle – a thick-padded elevated, armless chaise lounge. We dubbed it the PMS lounge. I used it for my daily lunchtime naps, despite the fact that the room had a musty smell and the walls were painted an institutional green that reminded me of a state hospital from the 1950s. Every day, my co-worker friend dutifully came downstairs to wake me up after 30 minutes.
I’m reminded of this long-ago ritual because since last year I have indulged in power naps, formerly called cat naps. My acupuncturist recommended naps, especially for sleep-deprived people like me. While my workload has gone from insane to manageable, business trips and deadlines seem to occur at the same times, hence a deadly cocktail of late nights and stress.
At first, I fought it. Napping took away valuable time from work. But when I couldn’t put together two cogent sentences, I began spinning my proverbial wheels. I gave in to the siren and found that when I woke up, I was – albeit groggy at first – better able to tackle writing that white paper and get things done and do them well instead of operating in a fog, redoing and rewriting, and taking twice as long to get anything done.
Articles say ideal naps last between 10 to 20 or 30 minutes and should be taken no later than midday. Longer naps make you more tired and naps late in the day may interfere with your quality of sleep at night. Everybody is different. I have found that I don’t naturally sleep for 30 minutes and then wake up, but I didn’t want to set an alarm – unless I had to – because in the back of my head I would wonder when that alarm was going to go off. I nap during my lunch break but will acquiesce to an earlier time when I’m really struggling to get words down. I’ve even broken the rule and taken a nap at 5PM after picking up my kids from some extracurricular activity. There is no way I can make dinner in this state. My kids tell me it’s okay to have a late dinner and off I go to nap. And when I wake up, I cook dinner that would have taken me twice as long had I not slept.
Napping allows me to be more productive later in the afternoon when my energy usually wanes. In the last year or two, I have witnessed – with great sadness – the decline of my energy level (along with my memory, which I believe is connected to my energy level). Getting settled back into a work routine of no travel in the near term, reaching a point in my job where I’m appropriately delegating work and managing the workflow, and eating healthful meals on a regular schedule will help me regain my energy level and reclaim my sleep.
That said, while I didn’t take a nap yesterday, though I was tired, naps will remain a necessary tool that will help me reach the coveted restful state. Now if I can get to bed by 11PM and not worry about projects and deadlines, which is a goal my acupuncturist heartily approves of, I would be ecstatic.
I used to make fun of my years of sleep deprivation and even tout my ability to be fine after a marathon 48 hours straight working on a project. But it’s no laughing matter. Your brain chemistry is altered when you are deprived of sleep for prolonged periods of time. I’m very aware of this. Sometimes choices have to be made. I skipped my son’s baseball game last Sunday because leaving the house at 6:30AM for a second weekend morning in a row was too exhausting. I didn’t sleep in, but I lounged just a bit. I went to my mom’s group’s monthly breakfast and had a leisurely breakfast. Later, my daughter and I had a leisurely lunch on our balcony.
It’s so hard not to feel guilty about taking it easy in this crazy workaholic environment. But I have to consciously remind myself: If I can’t take care of myself, I can’t take care of my family or my friends. Power naps, I’ve discovered, have helped empower me. And knowing that Leonardo di Vinci, Thomas Edison, and Albert Einstein were advocates of naps puts me in great company.