The art of the nap
Who needs to be schooled in napping? Maybe you. Many I talk to say, Oh, I can never nap! There’s never an opportunity.
You are likely reading this nano book because you have a daytime commitment — and yet your creative work matters to you. You want to perform both well. My life is similar with the art gallery. Its demands are heavy during working hours. While it’s true that we have a team now, which allows for more leeway than I had in the early years, I’ve had enough years in the workforce to speak to this with some small authority. Very small authority, but I’ll speak it nonetheless.
If you are able to re-regulate your daily sleep pattern quickly upon entering your own early morning challenge — and you’re never ever ever a napper — then you can skip this section. This is for those like me, who are boosted beyond measure by a short sweet nap.
Don’t take it just from me, take it from a Harvard-trained sleep researcher. Here’s what Dr. Sara Mednick says in Take A Nap, Change Your Life!, her book about sleep studies:
Imagine a product that increases alertness, boosts creativity, reduces stress, improves perception, stamina, motor skills, and accuracy, enhances your sex life, helps you make better decisions, keeps you looking younger, aids in weight loss, reduces the risk of heart attack, elevates your mood, and strengthens memory. Now imagine that this product is nontoxic, has no dangerous side effects, and, best of all, is absolutely free.
This miracle drug is, in fact, nothing more than the “nap”: the right nap at the right time.
Yes, imagine all that. For the low cost of dozing off for a few minutes. Sign me up. Enhances your sex life and boosts creativity? What’s not to like.
You know what I enjoyed most from Dr. Mednick’s book? Validation. I didn’t buy it for me, I bought it for data for all the doubters. I’ve been a lifelong napper, I didn’t need to convince myself. My wife however …. Friends however ….
Though it is filled with details from troves of research on napping, the above quote distills the benefits succinctly. To understand the science behind the benefits, I recommend diving into Take A Nap, Change Your Life! yourself. Dr. Mednick delineates differences in effects from long luxurious naps to the brief touchdown of a nano nap.
A common misperception about naps is that they require your bed. And a stretch of time. Untrue. The best naps are short naps. And they can happen anywhere.
For our purposes here — for your energy pick-me-up, you will want a nap 20 minutes or under. (Long naps of 45 minutes to an hour can leave you drowsy.) Even 5 minutes just closing your eyes and relaxing — without falling into real sleep — is beneficial. Hell, I’ve even taken a one-minute nap. Some would call it closing your eyes for one minute, not napping. But it’s all I could squeeze in. You’d be surprised how even one measly minute of mental cessation makes a difference.
More commonly I’ve taken many an 8 or 12 or 15-minute nap. You won’t fall into the deep slumber you crave at night, and that’s a good thing.
Naps under 20 minutes rejuvenate your brain. Your whole system. Think of a nap as a reboot. You may not power all the way down like you do at night, but those minutes of shut down will refill your cup.
In fact, the only way to duplicate night slumber is to take a nap of 90 minutes or more. This way you undergo one full cycle of deep sleep, that slows your brain waves down from their active beta frequencies of daytime alertness, to alpha (daydreaming), to theta and delta (deep sleep) (though accomplished meditators can sink all the way into theta brain waves and retain a muted consciousness). Ninety minutes is one full cycle, allowing for the much-coveted rapid-eye-movement phase where you dream most vividly.
Three weeks into the 30-Day Creative Morning Challenge I had a couple late nights in a row — I wasn’t reviving with short naps. I knew exactly what I had to do: Carve out an hour and a half for a deep nap in the afternoon. Which I did. Two hours actually. I managed to do my early morning creative work each day, but by the second day — or was it the third? — I was out of sorts. I need my 7 to 8 hours of sleep a day and I was feeling the full brunt of not enough.
I awoke that morning both body and head achy. This persisted for hours. Ah, but once I emerged from that long nap — ahhhh to the second power — I was healed. I was whole again. My God I felt good and natural.
I rarely engage a day nap of this length, but sometimes you have to bring out the big guns.
Your lunch break is a great way to carve out 20 minutes. In your car in a parking lot works if you live in a car-centric region of the country. If you live in non-car country, options abound. If you have an office, you’re set. Simply close and lock the door and start your timer.
If car or office are not in your option set, then get creative. Scout around. There are dozens of (semi) comfy locations crying out for napsters like you. Look for out-of-the-way nooks.
My best naps have been … everywhere.
— Leaning against a tree just off a sidewalk
— Propped on my desk in a cubicle
— Slouched against a wall in a chair
— On a couch
— On a park bench
— At a lone conference room table, wiping up a little sleep drool afterward
— In a tight but surprisingly cozy supply closet
— On a short stack of tires (check for snakes)
— On the grassy incline of a berm at a rest area
— Sprawled out on my yoga mat atop a picnic table
— In the back of a pickup truck (there’s a country song in this)
— In a mound of moving blankets
— Against the base of a statue
— At the bottom of a slide in a playground
— Up against a wood pile (check for snakes)
Options abound if you truly seek them out. I’ve gone into a restroom without bodily need, closing the stall door for a few minutes of desperately needed shut eye. My corporate days overlapped with late nights of waning youth, so I had to get creative.
You only need a few minutes. You can even get away with a quick nap without solitude. Just slap on your sunglasses, throw on a baseball cap if you’ve got one, and doze in a public space. Wherever a number of people are milling about — a park, a bench on a city street, a food court, a library — you’re just one more object for the eye to alight on briefly before moving on.
A final suggestion for naps: Have a notepad and pen at the ready. Your brain will ideate more in this state than perhaps any other. Ideas will go a-poppin’ as you dematerialize into unconsciousness. And as you reconstitute afterward ….
With enough practice you will attain scribbling mastery, even in the dark, even with your eyes closed. Both when meditating before bed and when dropping off to sleep, my brain likes to toss out one-liners. If you jot thoughts down — just enough to capture the kernel of the idea — then you can breezily return to your restful state.
You’ll find most ideas can be captured in a phrase or two.
So I do. By having the notepad and pen handy, I’m ready. Even better, by doing a quick scrawl it releases the thought — effortlessly I’m back in meditation or back in sleep mode.
It’s the same with naps. You release a nagging thought by capturing it quickly. The way a karate sensei snatches a fly from the air with chopsticks. Catch it then nap on, brothers and sisters.
The Creative Morning Challenge: Supercharge Your Creative Work in 30 Days