It’s 2 p.m. and I just woke up from a nap.
No, it’s not the weekend. And no, I’m not on vacation. It’s just a normal workday.
A year ago, I would have been embarrassed to admit this. After all, I live and work in the United States where sleeping in the middle of the day is practically stigmatized. In my 20s, my friends and I proudly proclaimed (as we downed cases of energy drinks) “Who needs sleep? There’s plenty of time to sleep when we’re dead!”
Today, I’m more embarrassed by that admission than I am of saying I regularly schedule power naps into my days because, the truth is, it was that kind of twisted thinking in my younger years that left me feeling perpetually irritable and exhausted — not exactly qualities that inspire creative thinking.
As a writer and creative, I was sabotaging the very things that fuel my best creative work: a rested mind, a relaxed body and a refreshed spirit.
I realized there was nothing noble about being sleep deprived, or denying I needed more shut eye. So I started getting to bed earlier.
At first, the motivation to get more sleep was purely vain. I got tired of looking in the mirror and seeing a sallow complexion and dark circles around my eyes. After watching Arianna Huffington’s TedWomen talk, How to Succeed? Get More Sleep, I realized not only did I need more beauty sleep, I also needed more Creativity ZZZs if I wanted to get better at my writing craft.
Creativity ZZZs, as I call it, are 10- to 20-minute power naps that I work into my schedule a few times a week, usually between noon and 3 p.m.
In South America, where my family’s from, it’s not unusual for people to take a “siesta” in the afternoon. But in the U.S., naps have become the domain of the “lazy”, the “unproductive” folks who either don’t work or don’t want to work.
But there’s a growing body of research that makes the case for getting more sleep. Sleep, it turns out, is not just good for your body. It also boosts your creativity.
Here’s what I discovered when I started taking more cat naps:
It no longer felt like I was trying to pull thoughts out of cotton. At a certain point in the afternoon, usually around three o’clock, I hit a mental wall. In the past, I tried to climb over that wall with gallons of caffeine and sugar. But that did nothing to unlock ideas or creative musing that seemed trapped in dark, unreachable corners of my brain. The crash that inevitably ensued after my caffeine high only made me feel worse. But after a power nap, my mind is able to brainstorm and draw connections between seemingly disparate ideas because it’s clear and refreshed.
Got More Focused
Creative work requires uninterrupted stretches of time where you are immersed in whatever activity you undertake. It’s what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls Flow. Power naps help me get more focused, and more “in the flow.” I stop reading the same sentence in an email, a book, a blog post, an article, even my own writing, over and over again trying to understand what I was reading. After a nap, I feel reinvigorated and ready to focus on something intensely for a longer period of time.
Became More Energized
As a kid, I spent my summers in Colombia, where my parents were born. On most days everyone took “siesta”, an afternoon nap usually taken after lunch. That makes sense, of course, since most people tend to feel sluggish between noon and 4 p.m., the time of day that coincides with the lowest point in our circadian cycles. My low point usually begins around 2 p.m. when my eyelids start to feel heavy and my brain starts to slow. A short nap can feel like a shot of espresso without the caffeine jitters.
There’s no doubt sleep deprivation can leave you feeling cranky, irritable and moody. In fact, studies have shown that even partial sleep deprivation has a significant effect on mood.
“People who have problems with sleep are at an increased risk for developing emotional disorders (such as) depression and anxiety,” says Harvard University professor Dr. Lawrence Epstein.
Feeling tired and run down is not just bad for your mood, it’s bad for creative endeavors because stress and anxiety feed creative blocks. But when you’re feeling good and rested, ideas flow which leads to more good feelings.
So if you if you want to be at your creative best, do yourself a favor:
Go take a nap.