The Power of Napping

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Outside of lecturing me on how much elaichi (cardamom) should be in chai or how much she prays for me, my Ammi, grandma, always says to care for the body. And no, not face masks and body scrubs. She takes naps. Like a pro, she would make you think she wasn’t napping even though she was, or was napping. I was amazed that even if Ammi had long work hours or a low spirit, she still rested. Her consistency has inspired my routine of napping.

The pandemic and social justice uprising of the past year has kept us wide-eyed and on high alert. There’s a pressure to know every detail that happens in the world. But, as Toni Morrison said in her work Peril that amid chaos, “stillness is an option.” When I practice napping after something troubles me, my mind becomes clear. After resting, I try to confide in my elders and loved ones instead of mindless online or offline behavior.

Rest allows you to understand traumas or ideas, a grace that extends to your surroundings. Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, an author, describes in her book, Women Who Run With the Wolves, how “intentional solitude begins to act like a vital respiratory system, a natural rhythm of adding knowledge, making minute adjustments, and deleting the unusable over and over again.”

Tricia Hersey, the nap guru and founder of The Nap Ministry, an organization that promotes napping through workshops and theories on how to rest, explains that napping is an ancient practice, not a wellness trend. She says all she needs is her comfy couch, sleep mask, and blanket, crocheted by her sister, to transform herself. “Something about a couch nap feels unexpectedly different from a bed,” Hersey says.

With enough experience in napping, Hersey still finds hidden gems. She started wearing an eye mask two years ago. “I’ve been missing out! I keep them at workshops now. Essential oils, too.” Adding that she uses them, “even if I don’t take a full nap or drift off into a sleep cycle.”

Since COVID-19, her classes have transitioned to Zoom. These 40-minute workshops consist of a mini-lecture about rejecting a workaholic mindset with guided meditation. She requests attendees to lay down in a comfortable reclining space and sit in silence and daydream, and perhaps eventually, nap. Sometimes she’ll explore different methods, like somatics training in a bathtub. Or, specific grief and resting rituals for Black communities to generate love amid the pandemic and violence against Black people.

“I’ve been able to do extraordinary things in my life. And I take naps.”

Yasmin Elhady, a lawyer-comedian-relationship expert, was raised in an Egyptian culture of napping. She says her husband makes fun of her excessive naps. (She had just woken up from a nap when we chatted on the phone.) “I get crazy if I don’t nap,” she says.

Elhady likes to rest on her Tempurpedic bed and enjoys the sound of thunderstorms on YouTube to help her fall asleep. Specifically, this 10-hour video called Epic Thunder. When Elhady wakes from a quick slumber, she drinks green juice to regain energy. “The first whole hour after a nap is low-energy. But, after it, I’m a firecracker—I feel great!” Elhady says. “I feel full because I’m so happy after a nap.”

She tries to rest at lunchtime, an ode to her upbringing in her hometown, Ismailia, a city in north-eastern Egypt, where napping is a part of life. At Zuhr, one of the Islamic prayer times during the day, people pray, eat lunch, and nap before the next prayer time. After the citywide slumber, shops reopen. “They seem happier after because they are rested,” Elhady says.

Figuring out a nap routine is like building a skincare regimen. I’ll spend 20 minutes doing an oil cleanse in the midafternoon some days because I feel like it’s what my skin needs. With napping, I similarly move according to the different grooves of my day. I’ll pass out on the couch because it’s raining outside; or, it’s Ramadan, and I need a nap to stay sane, I’ll spend time prepping for a nap by drinking a calming tea, closing all the blinds, warming a blanket in the dryer, and fluffing up some pillows. It’s not something that’s ever forced—I listen to what my body needs.

Ariana Huffington, the founder of Huffington Post, loves napping so much that it inspired her to create Thrive Global, to promote rest, in 2016. The company’s offices in New York, San Francisco, Athens, Mumbai, and Melbourne all have nap rooms, which “were almost always in use back when people were working at the office,” Huffington says.

When Huffington worked crazy hours as the founder of Huffington Post, she often napped on flights if she didn’t get enough sleep. She created Thrive because, well, napping worked.

Huffington believes napping should be a priority if you’re tired. “Instead of reaching for a Cinnamon Bun or any kind of sugar rush to give you energy, a short nap can be deeply energizing,” she says. “I always wake up feeling recharged and ready to get back to work.”

Last year, her nap routines involved none other than Diddy. After working with Sean Combs as his sleep coach (yes, really), Huffington asked him to partner with Thrive to create guided sleep meditation for Audible. “And so now the teacher has become the student,” Huffington says. “It’s so effective, I still don’t know how it ends—and I don’t think I’ll ever find out.” (“Now you can listen to Diddy to wind you down for a nap, and then listen to other tracks by Diddy to wake you up,” she adds.)

The pandemic has shifted Huffington’s behavior. She’s taking fewer flights and getting a solid eight hours a night, so she hasn’t felt the need. But she knows, for many, napping is the only thing holding them together. “For my friends, napping has been a godsend,” she says. “So many have been knocked out of their routines, and fitting in even a 20-minute nap on a day when they didn’t get enough sleep can be game-changing.”

“Night naps (naps at night), disco naps (naps at night, but when you’re going out after), midday naps—I take them all”

You know when you wake up from an amazing nap and forget who and what you are. I love these trance-like moments. It’s like an inescapable yet vital pause. I think of it as a mini-reminder of how fleeting time is. On days I can’t fall asleep—meditating, praying, closing my eyes for a brief moment all achieve a necessary realignment.

For some, COVID-19 has allowed for more naps than their usual. Hunter Harris, the former Vulture writer who now authors Hung Up, says she naps a few times a week since working from home. “I just get sleepy sometimes! I’ve found it’s better for my productivity to take a nap for 40-60 minutes and wake up refreshed, and continue working, then to be blinky and sleepy and try to power through,” Harris says.

She got it from her mom and aunt, who she says are “nap evangelists.” Her mom was inspired by siestas, afternoon naps, after a study abroad trip to Spain. She also worked off-hours as a local news weekend anchor and took naps to make up for a lack of sleep. While Harris’s aunt has a chronic illness, and napping helps her cope with fatigue. “Growing up, they both encouraged me to nap if I was feeling irritable, or before a sleepover or something,” Harris says.

Harris believes she’s much more “charming and engaging” after she has squeezed in time for a quick rest. “Night naps (naps at night), disco naps (naps at night, but when you’re going out after), midday naps—I take them all,” says Harris. For her, time to recharge instead of scrolling through Twitter or mindlessly watching TV is more impactful. It helps her focus on writing and overall feel energized.

For Margari Aziza, the cofounder of Muslim-ARC, an anti-racism organization, who once compared herself to a sloth on Twitter (“I just want to nap all day,” she wrote), recognizes napping for the privilege that it is. “I’m African-American. My ancestors weren’t allowed to take naps,” she says. “We aren’t machines; we should follow the rhythms of life.” So since Aziza started working from home, she’s incorporating napping into her daily routine. “You sleep when you can,” she says. “There are plenty of high-performance people who achieve things and take naps. I’ve been able to do extraordinary things in my life. And I take naps.”

Amina Khan is a writer and artist based in Dallas, TX.
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