My wife and I occasionally argue about the merits of napping. She has a hard time switching off and disconnecting, and trying to do so is often more stressful for her than it is to simply keep working. I, on the other hand, try to take a nap at least every day. Except for a brief period in my youth when I refused to engage in naptime in a misguided attempt to force adults to take me seriously, I have always been a huge fan of closing my eyes whenever I realize that all I’m doing is staring at whatever it is I’m working on without actually accomplishing anything. Up until now we have agreed to disagree on this subject, and I have promised that I won’t take any naps while driving.
However, thanks to the New York Times, I’m officially winning this one. A recent article about why so many people hate their jobs had this to say about the importance of relaxing:
“Employees who take a break every 90 minutes report a 30 percent higher level of focus than those who take no breaks or just one during the day. They also report a nearly 50 percent greater capacity to think creatively and a 46 percent higher level of health and well-being. The more hours people work beyond 40 — and the more continuously they work — the worse they feel, and the less engaged they become. By contrast, feeling encouraged by one’s supervisor to take breaks increases by nearly 100 percent people’s likelihood to stay with any given company, and also doubles their sense of health and well-being.”
It feels good to be right.
More importantly, it feels good to relax. Our brains are simply not designed for uninterrupted focus. Olympic athletes rarely train for more than four hours a day because they are unable to sustain expert performance for longer than that; and while athletics obviously involves a lot of physical exertion, it’s also mentally exhausting. On a more anecdotal note, I’ve talked to countless people who have said they get their best ideas at the gym, in the shower, or just lying down. There’s a good chance you feel the same way; and yet too many of us decide that we don’t have time for the very thing that will ultimately make us more efficient and more productive than if we simply try to power through without stopping.
A October 2013 Washington Post article cited recent research suggesting that we sleep not because our bodies need time to heal but because our brains need time to unclutter. According to University of Rochester neurosurgeon Maiken Nedergaard, “Sleep puts the brain in another state where we clean out all the byproducts of activity during the daytime.” In other words, sleeping isn’t just about recovering energy; it’s also about recovering the ability to be creative after our brains have clogged themselves up with too many stimuli.
My wife probably won’t like this article. But that’s OK with me. She’s not usually angry for more than about 15 minutes, and that is a perfect amount of time for a great nap. I hope you’ll join me. In spirit, at least. Because if you show up at my house with pajamas and a blankie I’m going to make you stay out on the driveway.