What do many of the most iconic leaders and innovators in the history of civilization have in common?
They loved taking naps. From Salvador Dalí to Winston Churchill to JFK to Thomas Edison. The inclusion of Edison in particular is ironic, given that his invention of the light bulb forever changed the circadian rhythms of all human beings.
Yet in today's fast-moving, information-is-power, time-is-money economy, naps are often considered a sign of weakness.
Who can forget Michael Douglas in Wall Street, walking on a Hamptons beach, talking on his comically oversize cell phone, just as the sun started to rise. He famously told his young protégé, Bud Fox, "Get up pal, money never sleeps!" Caught off guard, the young Fox jumped right out of bed.
That cinematic moment reinforced the cultural notion that powerful and successful people sleep much less than the rest of us. For the past 30 years in particular our society has assumed that superstars get ahead by prioritizing work above all else. Sleep is for wimps. High performers don't need a break. To relax is to waste precious time better spent on productivity -- whether starting a new venture or trading equities halfway across the world on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
So, it is with a bit of hesitation -- even embarrassment -- that I admit to taking naps. I genuinely enjoy them. And, personally speaking, I see many advantages to making the time for such periods of rest. Let me know if you agree.
Here are several benefits to consider:
Naps can enhance your creativity. Many visionaries, from songwriters (like Elton John) to world-renowned scientists, swear that some of their best ideas appear during deep siestas. Even as far back as the Italian Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci was known to take 15-minute naps to refuel his creative energy. Albert Einstein would sometimes doze off while contemplating relativity, new formulas, and his next, big aha! moment. More recently, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and other disrupters swear that quality rest not only keeps them energized and excited but also gives them the focus they need to make key decisions during the day. Future entrepreneurs and leaders of all kinds may want to take notice and consider the creative benefits of napping.
Naps are practical. In today's post-Covid world, working from home has become a reality for large tranches of society. Whether bosses like it or not, employees have far more freedom and optionality than ever before. Let's face it: More people will take naps now because their environment permits it. They'll be working at home, eating at home, and occasionally dozing off at home. Organizations may as well embrace it rather than fight it; doing so could be a wise strategy on their part.
Naps increase productivity. I was recently reading a story on LinkedIn about a sales associate who was so much more productive after his midday nap that the company ultimately encouraged him to take two-hour lunch breaks. They wanted him to be fully recharged and ready to perform during late-afternoon sales calls. Similarly, I advise some of my senior executive coaching clients to take power naps if it helps them be more refreshed before important meetings. The only time I advise against it is if it causes grogginess.
Naps can increase alertness, even in the most stressful situations. John F. Kennedy, for example, had a constant barrage of nail-biting moments in the White House, yet he regularly took uninterrupted two-hour naps. This trend continued even during the ugliest moments of his presidency, including the Cuban Missile Crisis. When later asked about this habit, he said naps unambiguously helped him be more alert and aware. Historians typically cite JFK's judgment as one of his most important leadership competencies.
Finally, although naps may still have a negative stigma in the United States, they project a positive image in many cultures around the globe. In Japan's hard working, win-at-all-costs culture, they embrace power naps, or what they call inemuri. It's all about the framing. They look at naps as a sign of strength, since needing one implies the nap-taker must have worked extremely hard to justify the break. Nothing is more powerful in their culture than an executive who has earned the time to nap, and perhaps even enjoyed a long, relaxing bath beforehand.