The 7 Rules of Napping


2607621162_13ece1c44c-1I was brought up in a family of world-class nappers. My father was legendary for his seemingly effortless ability to attain the holy grail of napping: the three-hour Sunday snooze. My mother took the micro approach, stealing catnaps on the living room floor without a pillow. This resulted in a recurring scene: my brothers and I coming home from school to the unnerving sight of dear old Mom laid out unconscious on the carpet, arms splayed like a CSI victim. Then she’d spring up to greet us, the imprint of the weave still on her cheek. It was like living with Lazarus.

It turns out Mom and Dad were ahead of the curve. We are living in the Golden Age of the Performance-Enhancing Nap: neurologists are touting the learning benefits of midday siestas; Silicon Valley companies are competing to see who can design the hippest nap rooms. Napping is not just napping anymore; it’s a skill. So with that in mind, I’d like to offer the following rules.

Rule 1: Take your shoes off. Leaving shoes on for a nap is like wearing a swimsuit in the shower: just because you can doesn’t mean you should. This is not about being efficient — it’s about scoring a high-quality unconsciousness, and that means getting comfy.

Rule 2: Get horizontal. Yes, truck drivers and astronauts can nap sitting up. But you are not an astronaut. Even Thomas Edison, a workaholic who liked to boast that he only slept four hours a day, obeyed this rule, clearing off his workbench and stretching out like a champ. Plus, getting horizontal lets you fall asleep 50 percent faster than sitting; it’s the cue that tells your body, this is for real, dude.

Rule 3:  Get under a blanket. Napping slows your metabolism; you naturally tend to get chilled. The trick here is to have a blanket that’s not too heavy, and not too light. A medium blanket — like an afghan — lets you cocoon without getting too warm or cold. A hoodie works in a pinch.

Rule 4: Aim for the sweet spot of 20-45 minutes. Go longer (like my dad usually did) and you are moving past the nap zone into the the zombie zone — the kind where you find yourself unable to fully wake up again for hours. While this creates ample entertainment opportunities for others (“Hey, let’s switch the clocks ahead, cook pancakes, and trick Dad into thinking it’s morning”); it’s considerably less productive for the napper.

Rule 5: Aim to nap after lunch. The Spanish figured this out a long time ago: just after lunch is when your body is in a natural down cycle.  Stop resisting and embrace the fact that an afternoon yawn is the equivalent of a flashing neon sign: TIME TO ZONK.

Rule 6: Avoid using wake-up gimmicks. Salvador Dali held a key in his hand so that he would awake when it clanged to the ground. But this is a terrible idea (unless you are a surrealist and want to paint a lot of melting clocks). These tricks only serve to end the nap before you get to the good stuff — the short, deep sleep cycle, where you awaken after 20-45 minutes.  Instead, set a backup alarm on your phone for 45 minutes.

Rule 7: No bragging about what a great nap you just had. Just take it in stride. The rest of us can tell anyway.

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13 Responses to “The 7 Rules of Napping”

  1. Patrick says:

    I am so digging this post. Naps make people productive at work at more interesting and fun outside of work. I’m sending this link to the world. The world!

  2. Erik Krause says:

    Makes me want to take a nap right now!

  3. Robert Swoap says:

    I woke up from my afternoon nap (~35 min) and found this new post.
    I had been getting ready to share the previous one (with the practice map) with my kids.
    Refreshed, I can share both with them now!
    Love it!

  4. I came from a family of nappers as well. Mom catnapped on her bed with her arms across her chest funeral home style. Spooked me more than once. I do some of my best thinking while napping. 🙂 LOVE this post!!

  5. Great post! Perfectly succinct and solid advice, especially #7! Thanks for posting.

    I followed the link to the research you kindly provided and hunted down the actual study. Here’s a link for anyone interested:

  6. djcoyle says:

    Ha! I know that feeling EXACTLY.

  7. Bronwyn says:

    Any tips on how to actually fall asleep? Even after only three hours of sleep and a 3:45AM flight, I still can’t get my brain to shut off.

  8. Jeff says:

    Thanks for spreading the gospel of napping. I’m a big believer!

    I recently found out that the human circadian rhythm (our internal body clock) experiences a natural energy dip around 2:30ish in the afternoon.

    So as well as avoiding the midday heat, those Mediterranean types may just be following their evolutionary instincts by taking a siesta.

  9. Pragati says:

    Thanks for this excellent post about napping. It felt like you just descibed my childhood, my father (deep sleeper) and my mother (cat napper). My mother’s permanent excuse, “Just closed my eyes for 10 min” even though we exactly knew that those 10 min passed 30 mins ago:)
    Somebody please make me stop laughing…

  10. Lol,my mum is 77 yo and works like a machine…but she still won’t admit she has a nap when I catch her…

  11. Bronwyn,to get to sleep when I’m wide awake or got something on my mind,I just wack a podcast on and away I go within minutes.

  12. Enrique Stura says:

    Napping is an art developed eons ago and refined to what is today in many parts of the world. Nappers find every possible reason to nap and some are; Too much to eat, High temps outside to do any work, Very low temperature outside to do any work, Sex is better at siesta time, Business hours go from 8:00 am to Noon, then 4:00PM to 8:00 PM therefore what else is to do after lunch?, I can work best after a nap,I can study great after napping, etc,etc.

    Half of the world cannot be wrong , there are extraordinary benefits in napping, some real some just excuses to hit the sack but if we just look at the promise of longevity for napping, we jump and grab it to never let it go.

  13. Ben Larcombe says:

    When I was training full-time (I’m a table tennis player) I always used to have a 45 minute doze after lunch and before afternoon practice. I’m now trying to see if I can combine this into my work routine.

    What do you think about Tim Ferriss’ point in 4HB that a 30 minute siesta nap can replace 2 hours of sleep at night, meaning you only need 6 hours at night?

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