The Wit and Wisdom of George Costanza
AKA Time for a Nice Nap
“I love a good nap; sometimes it’s the only thing getting me out of bed in the mornings.” ~ George Costanza, Seinfeld
George Costanza, with his daily under-desk nap was ahead of his time. At least according to the Greeks. A 2007 study of more than 23,000 Greek adults found that a thirty-minute nap, at least three times a week, is associated with a 37 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease.
Who else sleeps on the job? Besides important visionaries like Kramer and George we have ordinary folks the likes of Winston Churchil, JFK, Thomas Edison, and Salvadore Dali. Churchill napped an hour or more daily and credited these naps with his success leading England through the Battle of Britain. LBJ napped thirty minutes a day. JFK napped with Jackie every afternoon.
Salvadore Dali was a napper, but he didn’t agree with the Greek’s thirty-minute prescription. He was a fan of the quarter-second nap. Apparently so was Einstein. Much easier to fit in. More on that later.
So many studies confirm the power of a daily nap. Napping has been correlated to improvement in cognitive function, creative thinking, memory performance, libido and list goes on. Sometimes I resent a study. NASA financed a study at University of Pennsylvania which found that letting subjects nap for as little as 24 minutes improved their cognitive performance. I could have saved countless tax dollars and reported the same results that, yes, a nice nappy freshens up the noodle. Please keep an eye out for my upcoming Kickstarter campaign — I need one million to study whether eating food makes me feel full. I’ll be hitting up NASA for some fat cash.
The National Institute of Mental Health and Harvard University are also on board. In a joint study, they reported that a midday nap reverses information overload, concluding, “We should stop feeling guilty about taking that ‘power nap’ at work.”
I wasn’t really feeling so guilty, but I appreciate their support.
Next, I reach out to Dr. James Maas, inventor of the power nap, itself. A retired psychology professor from Cornell University, Maas is author of the best-selling book Power Sleep. I imagine him to be wearing a power tie and using powerful language and maybe even power walking as we speak, like Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, but not so. On the contrary, he is notably soft-spoken, gentle, and ready with a burly laugh. Come to think of it, he has roughly the demeanor of Santa Claus. Maybe he was born like that or, more probably, he’s just very well-napped. I wonder if we’d all share his pleasant disposition if we weren’t so chronically under slept. And you know what else? He doesn’t pause and say “ahhh” several times a minute like he’s stumped looking for the right word as so many folks do when they speak. Could this be the improved cognitive functioning and memory performance of which the napping studies speak?
Meeting Maas is like meeting a celebrity, at least if, like me, you’ve been reading nothing but napping articles, scientific papers, and books for two weeks. I start with a basic question. How did you develop the idea and the name for the power nap? He tells me, “I wanted to shift naps from being associated with laziness to being associated with productivity — something to help you survive and thrive in the work world. I thought we needed something catchy and with a positive slant. IBM and other corporations at the time were beginning to talk a lot about the power lunch. So I thought, I’ll coin a term here. I did research and found that even a ten to fifteen-minute nap was enough to get you over the afternoon slump and through the day. Why not a power nap? I wish I had copyrighted it! (hearty Santa-like laugh).”
How am I going to fit this in? Who the hell has time to nap? Sure Churchill, Edison, and US presidents did it, but I’m busy. Before my boys were born — i.e. before I needed to make an honest living — I napped like a champ. I was known to spend two, even three hours a day asnooze on the couch. Now, as an overworked dad and provider of four, I crave some daytime slumber more than ever, so I’m thrilled to get stalwart about my siesta. I will start with the minimum prescribed by the Greek study: Thirty minutes three times per week.
With two small children, I can’t guarantee anything on the weekends. Sometimes if I’m lucky we all cuddle in bed while Gwen reads to us. The boys listen to the stories and I sleep — usually I don’t make it past page two. But for the most part, my thrice-weekly naps will have to happen during my workweek.
Change seems to take time. Even amid my most noble intentions for diligent napping, days pass and I am snoozeless. I can’t seem to make time to visit the couch. I should schedule it into my date book like seeing a client.
Eventually I do make it to the couch.
The Greek study I referenced suggested a half hour, but my magic number seems to be twenty minutes. Pretty consistently, after that amount of time, I awaken naturally, refreshed and renewed. And NASA is correct; I definitely experience improved cognitive performance after each snooze.
My twenty-minute number is within range according to lots of other medical literature on snoozing. Most studies and sleep docs agree that between ten and thirty minutes is ideal. Within that range, and you’re experiencing reduced fatigue, increased alertness, improved mood, improved performance, quicker reaction time, better memory, and less confusion, but more than thirty minutes and you can succumb to sleep inertia, i.e. grogginess, unless, of course, you can make it to a complete sleep cycle at one and a half to two hours, like JFK and Jackie.
I’m curious about a technique recommended by international sleep expert Dr. Michael Breus. Breus is a fan of the “caffeine nap.” This high-octane life-hack promises to leave the napper feeling extra energized. Here’s the practice: quickly drink a cup of coffee and then cozy down for a 20-minute nap. The caffeine will kick in right after you wake up so you’ll feel not only well rested from the nap but especially mentally sharp from the caffeine. I don’t drink coffee but I do enjoy a stern cup of green tea. I try this and it’s genius. I’ve never felt more productive or mentally clear. But I can’t shake the feeling I’m doing something deviant, like auto asphyxiation or masturbating after taking sleeping pills.
I also plan to try Salvadore Dali’s quarter-second nap. I don’t really believe in it, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t give the great master’s plan a shot. Plus, it doesn’t make any sense to me — why nap for a split second? Why make it shorter. Napping is so delicious. This would be like a new cutting-edge technology that gets you through sex more quickly.
Dali’s process is simple enough. He instructs us to relax into a bony Spanish armchair, head rested back, arms extended slightly beyond the arms of the chair. For me, a recliner from Ikea will have to do. The wrists must be lubricated with oil of aspic so that they are slightly numb. I have no oil of aspic — is this even legal? But my wrists are very relaxed. Now, pinch a heavy key between thumb and forefinger and place a metal plate upside down underneath so that the key, when released, will give a loud clang.
Sleep researchers today call this phenomenon, in which the mind unlocks free flowing creative thoughts just before it reaches Stage 2 sleep, a “hypnogogic” nap.
My hypogogic nap is thus far unsuccessful. Perhaps it’s my lack of bony Spanish armchair or the conspicuous absence of oil of aspic, but I can’t seem to fall asleep in my chair. The one time I do, I don’t drop the key. Instead, I just snooze in my seat for ten minutes, head flopping around like on a road trip while Gwen drives.
Hypnogogic or not, is napping a game changer? Of course. But you knew that already. We don’t need NASA, the University of Pennsylvania, Aristotle or even Kramer to tell us. We just need to find a way to fit it in. Hopefully corporate America will follow the lead of Google, AOL, Ben & Jerry’s, and Metronaps, all of whom provide napping rooms for employees. What is Metronaps? They manufacture Google and AOL’s nap pods and, apparently, they practice what they preach. We could alternately go old school and follow the lead of the millions of Spanish workers who for centuries have gone home for an afternoon siesta or the millions of Chinese who simply nap right at their desks after lunch. If that doesn’t work, we can always join George under the desk. Long as we can find ways to fit in a nap, all signs point to game changer.