"If you want something done, give it to a busy person," says my favorite impresario of dinner parties, community events, and celebrations -- my mom. Her ethics of hard work and boundless joie de vivre meant we grew up in a house brimming with interesting people doing interesting things. At the end of our jam-packed days and nights, we didn't just go to bed; we collapsed into it, exhausted but fulfilled.
I, too, have mastered being busy, except that I've also developed a nasty guilt complex over going to sleep, as if I'm wasting precious time. I routinely stay up way too late finishing to-dos, spawning projects, and plowing through the inevitable fatigue the following day.
It wasn't until my first real 9 to 5+ job after college as a software engineer for a defense contractor that I finally succumbed to afternoon power naps. I needed an intervention to help me adjust from backpacking across Europe all summer to my new reality of sitting at a desk all day.
I'd lock myself in the corporate bathroom, sit on the sink, lean my head against the mirror and steal 15 minutes of shut-eye.
When I inadvertently mentioned this new coping strategy to my mom, she was as equally concerned about my character as for the fate of America. I assured her I was the only programmer resting on the job.
Luckily, I was assigned to work on a joint project with another high tech lab, where I noticed a cute, smart, wind-surfing computer scientist who had a subtler way to refresh his energy. He'd slip out of the office in the afternoon...to nap in his car! I soon adopted the habit in my own car and we'd wink across the parking lot in silent conspiracy. Now that he and I are married, one could say we were sleeping together well before our first date.
Over the years, as our respective careers got more intense and we started raising kids, we found it increasingly difficult to find the time and place to nap. We got clever. My husband started his own company and promptly placed oversized beanbag couches in his office and employee commons, signaling that naps were culturally acceptable. I, on the other hand, was an executive at a multinational financial services firm, so I'd have to wait until my homeward commute to pull into the mall, lock the car door, crack the window, and nap like a ninja.
My husband was unapologetic about his happy naps, yet I was still filled with guilt. Then, the veil lifted.
I hosted Arianna Huffington in Boston to give her insightful and powerful Thrive talk at my company. She enthusiastically shared how a good night's sleep is essential for employee well-being and better business outcomes. Her wit, research, and common sense was a salve for our frenzied professionals. Our collective relief was palpable. Napping isn't slacking, it's strategic!
I chimed in at the mic with my car-napping tricks. It got a lot of laughs; then, it got real.
Colleagues privately shared their napping confessionals to avoid public snickers. The firm's HR department quietly revealed it did indeed have 'resting rooms', a progressive, albeit unadvertised, employee benefit. Fellow VPs bravely attempted to spark a new productivity policy by circulating links to Harvard Business Review's article, Let Your Employees Nap at 3PM. I was just grateful to learn I wasn't the only parent who car-napped in the driveway to bridge the work-life divide.
Now that I'm a freelance consultant and my home is an empty nest, I'm meeting enlightened leaders across all industries who embrace the scientific findings which prove that proper sleep is a sensible management tool for enhancing creativity, problem solving, and decision making. They are smartly converting workplaces with legitimate napping rooms as natural antidotes for tech-induced stress. Amen.
As for my mom, she 'retired' to a golf community where she is busier than ever, happily organizing tournaments, fundraisers, and fetes of all sizes while her friends luxuriate with re-naps, the SunCity term for taking a snooze mid-morning, then repeating mid-afternoon.
If Arianna and HBR say sleep is good for business, scientists say it's good for the brain, and retirees say it's good for the soul, then why should we resist it?
Permission granted to rest and rejuvenate. Guilt? So over it.
I wish you all delightful doses of zzzzz's, whenever and wherever you need them.