Kent Bernhardt: The art of napping

  • Posted: Sunday, July 7, 2013 10:06 a.m.

There’s a lot to be said for the simple pleasure of an afternoon nap, but most often I’m too busy indulging in one to say it.

Napping is woefully under utilized in our society. Other cultures embrace the practice. It has also been a common trait of great leaders and inventors through the centuries.


Winston Churchill would take off his clothes and climb into bed for two solid hours of daily napping, usually between four-thirty and six-thirty. He would then rise, take a bath, enjoy a nice dinner, and work until around eleven in the evening, completely refreshed.

Napoleon would go days without a regular night’s sleep, but was known to fall asleep during the day at the drop of a hat.

John F. Kennedy napped every day, usually right after lunch for forty-five minutes or so. Mrs. Kennedy would wake him, and he would resume his busy schedule.

Consider Thomas Edison, a man who was embarrassed by his napping habit which sometimes lasted for up to three hours a day. Henry Ford once visited Edison only to be stopped at the door by an assistant who told him Edison was asleep. Ford remarked that he had heard Edison rarely slept. “He doesn’t sleep very much at all,” replied the assistant, “but he naps a lot.”

And critics called the entire second term of the Reagan Presidency “a four year nap.” When asked about his napping habits, Reagan once quipped “I have left orders to be awakened at any time during a national emergency, even if I’m in a cabinet meeting.”  

Americans have tended to see the nap as an intrusion into our busy schedules. Heaven forbid, we might actually miss a text, phone call, or Facebook message. We’re far too concerned that we’re wasting time and that our productivity is suffering. I’ve found that quite the opposite is true.

I’ve become the master of the fifteen minute “refresher” nap. There’s a couch in the office where I work, and occasionally I set my phone alarm for fifteen minutes, lean back on the couch in a sitting position, and completely zone out for a full quarter of an hour. My alarm sounds, and I go back to work.

Or maybe hit “snooze” once….or twice.

That doesn’t seem like a long time to anybody, but the effect on my energy level and state of mind is amazing. I usually feel totally refreshed and ready to take on the rest of the day.

Sometimes on Saturdays and Sundays, I opt for a much longer nap. Three hours is about the outside maximum. Any longer than that, and you might as well stay in bed.

I suppose we don’t nap more as adults because we hated naps as children. Every day at around one-fifteen, my first grade teacher, Mrs. Drury, would make us lay our heads down on our desks and take a nap. Under protest, we would dutifully follow her directions until she released us from our forced servitude.

How I miss her today. I would love it if she would waltz into my office and command me in her gentle grandmotherly voice to lay my head down on my desk, close my eyes, and leave my cares and woes behind for a half-hour.

I do find it difficult to nap in a perfectly quiet setting. I require background noise of some kind. Nothing loud or annoying, mind you, but something subtle like the gentle whirring of a fan or some classical music played at low volume.

For you sports enthusiasts, I recommend a NASCAR race or baseball game for slumber accompaniment. These particular sports can have long periods of virtually no action, making the background audio a perfect catalyst for the nap waiting to happen. Try it sometime. You’ll be out in no time.

Naps are a good thing.

I think if I were President, I’d sign legislation requiring daily naps for everyone. I’d especially require them for Congress under the same condition our parents did; forcing them to take one whenever they showed signs of crankiness, irritability, or irrational behavior.

Of course, the way things are going right now, those guys might as well come to work in their pajamas.

Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.

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