I come from a long line of accomplished nappers. My grandfather, after presiding over his generations at the family lunch on Saturday, would take to the couch at the far end of the one big room and, while the adults talked their loud talk and grandchildren one after the other let the screen door slam shut behind them on their way outside, would stretch himself out and immediately settle into a gentle snore.
My mother raised five children. For her the nap was an elusive dream, her pursuit of it a furtive obsession—then, later, luxurious reward for the hard-won empty nest.
So I've had ample opportunity to study the nap, to appreciate its subtleties and to try to clarify the several misconceptions that cloud our understanding of the thing.
First, who should nap? I would lay it down as a general rule that anybody who can nap should nap. Notice that lets out all type-A people—people who wouldn't know a nap if it walked up and caressed their tension-wrung neck and shoulders, people whose apparent contempt for the nap (I don’t have time for that) actually masks a sad failure to contemplate the full-dimensional life.
It lets in all the rest of us, we who knew the meaning of balance long before the concept was coopted by our consumerist culture. Take me, for example. I play golf, write a blog, and pet the dog. Sure, there’s a certain urgency about that kind of day, but I refuse to let any of those pursuits become so important that I can’t squeeze in a short one at some point during the afternoon.
So is that the best time to nap—the afternoon? There are no rules here. Many a mid-morning, when the caffeine buzz has calmed and the discordant jangle of the creative process has momentarily quieted, I have heard the sweet song of the nap. But remember—and this is a rule—you only get one nap a day. And since eating lunch is pretty much an irresistible inducement to nap, it's wise to think twice about the prudence of the morning nap.
Any other rules we should know about? Yes, the nap is of a certain duration. It can work its magic in 20 minutes or less, but even at 40 minutes you’re still legal. Longer than that, no. A friend of my daughter’s once told me that his naps lasted for three or four hours. I had to explain that that wasn’t napping; that was going back to bed, a far different kettle of fish.
Other rules follow from that one, and on the same principle. One, you’re not allowed to get under the covers to take a nap. If the room is chilly, throw a robe or light blanket over yourself, but understand that the nap is not something to be snuggled into. Along the same lines, it’s best to take your nap lying on your back. That way, you’ll snore yourself awake before you cross the line.
Don’t get me wrong. There are good reasons for going back to bed, chief among which is the hangover. We’ve all been there. We have to go to work. We get up. We try a little coffee and toast. We vomit. We go back to bed. Other, less devastating illnesses, like pneumonia, can also be reason enough to surrender for the day.
But under anything less than dire circumstances, going back to bed is unhealthy. It suggests depression. It suggests that . . . well, it suggests that you have no reason to be out of bed, nothing to do, nothing to live for. We all know people like this, people for whom the condition of being out of bed is a dark emptiness.
I wouldn’t presume to advise, but I’ve got four words: Golf. Blog. Dog. Nap. You talk about meaning.