Hemingway napped. Salvador Dalí napped. Winston Churchill also took afternoon snoozes, in between commanding the British Armed Forces during World War II.
“Don’t think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day,” Churchill once said. “That’s a foolish notion held by people who have no imaginations. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one.”
The benefits of an afternoon nap are by now well-documented. It’s been proven to make NASA astronauts 54 percent more alert, and Silicon Valley firms from Google to Uber have installed nap pods and nap rooms for their employees, expecting to capitalize on the productivity boost that napping provides. Some of the most celebrated figures in business, art, and politics all owe a portion of their success to the siesta. Arianna Huffington, Alan Cumming, and the Clintons are all known nappers.
“A commonly held misconception is that napping is for lazy people,” says Dr. Sara Mednick, who lives in San Diego and leads the Sleep and Cognition Lab at UC Riverside. “My research and others’ shows that napping has profound benefits for cognitive processing, learning, and memory, emotional well-being, and emotion regulation.”
Science has surprisingly little understanding of exactly how sleep works—why we need it, and what function it serves in our brains and bodies. Until relatively recently, both the medical field and society in general have overlooked the importance of sleep. In a world that seems stuck in fast-forward, sleep is the first thing many of us sacrifice. As a result, we are a nation of irritable, sleep-deprived people who could be happier, healthier, and more productive if only the culture made room for extra shut-eye.
Mednick should know. She literally wrote the book on the subject in 2006, titled Take a Nap! Change Your Life. The book outlines how readers can hack their sleep schedules to achieve a particular result. Writers and artists who want a creativity boost should nap for 30 minutes in the late morning, for example, while an athlete wanting alertness and stamina should aim for a 20-minute rest after lunch.
These days, Mednick is studying sleep’s role in memory, and she’s also involved with a study that uses vast data sets to examine the effect of climate change on sleep around the world. As the planet gets warmer, people who can’t control the temperature of their living space will suffer from sleep loss of up to an hour per night.
“There’s a large amount of people who will be suffering from decreased sleep, which is super important for restorative physical processes,” she says. “That will affect people who are poor and don’t necessarily have air conditioning, and older adults who might be bed-bound and unable to change the climate in their home.”
Mednick argues that finding time and space to nap is easier than we might think, especially considering the high price we pay for skipping sleep.
“Many people think there’s no way they could find the time to nap,” she says, “but if they deny themselves a great mechanism for improving cognition and well-being in general, that’s unfortunate.”
Indeed. Why not take some time for a little snooze now? We’ll be here when you wake up.