Naps can restore alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and accidents. A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness 100%.
* Naps can increase alertness in the period directly following the nap and may extend alertness a few hours later in the day.
* Scheduled napping has also been prescribed for those who are affected by narcolepsy.
* Napping has psychological benefits. A nap can be a pleasant luxury, a mini-vacation. It can provide an easy way to get some relaxation and rejuvenation.
For quite a few years I've been doing my part to advance understanding in this area. Most days I retire to my napping sanctum sanctorum to worship at the altar of unabashed hedonism.
For that's the purest form of the Platonic Nap – the nap as it exists in itself, not seeking justification through some sort of cost-benefit analysis.
OK, so you can get 34% more performance from a 40-minute nap. If that's your reason for taking a short doze, you haven't grasped the Tao of napping.
As I said in a 2004 post, "My afternoon delight":
I am the devotee of a pure form of Napping Philosophy, formulated over many, many years of diligent unconscious study. To wit, naps are not a means to an end; they are the end: self-indulgence, hedonism, unadulterated unproductiveness.
Thus I find it disturbing that naps are being recommended as a tool for accomplishing more. This is absurd.
It's akin to watching the Playboy Channel in order to better understand the cultural role of women in post-modern Western society. Anyone who takes a nap with a productive motivation in mind is a faux napper.
I beg of you: Please, don't sully the purity of this noble nonactivity. Have a cup of coffee instead.
After almost three additional years of napping experience, I can say that my Taoist perspective on this subject has only gotten stronger. In fact, I even came across a reference to naps in a Taoism-related book I was reading recently.
The gist of the author's point, which fits with my own attitude, is that the very notion of a "nap" is unnatural. Hence, out of tune with the naturalistic philosophy of Taoism (which is closely related to Zen).
"When I'm sleepy, I sleep. When I'm hungry, I eat."
If a nap is viewed as simply sleeping when sleepy, it fits comfortably into an unadorned Taoist approach to life. However, if an unscheduled sleep is called a "nap," and an extra meal is called a "snack," we've fallen into excessive formalism.
It may well be that sleeping at various times throughout the day, not just in one big chunk at night, is part of the natural sleep pattern of humans. For 85% of mammals, this is the case.
So nap on, my fellow Homo sapiens.
It's not only true for us that "I think, therefore I am." Napping leads us to experience a yin-truth to that yang: "When I don't think, I also am."