Creativity Prescription: The Power of Power Naps

  • Lisa Papademetriou.

Published: 11/6/2019 12:38:43 PM

Recently, I stumbled across Salvador Dali’s very specific instructions on power-napping. First, he suggests that an afternoon nap should be very short. In fact, it should be less than a quarter of a second long. He suggests that one sit in a “bony armchair” with head tilted back. In one hand, hold a key between the thumb and forefinger positioned directly over an upside-down plate. Just as one begins to nod off, the key will drop and clatter. This split second, “the fugitive moment when you had barely lost consciousness” is all an artist needs before returning to work in the afternoon. It seems that Thomas Edison used a similar technique, only his version included ball bearings and a saucepan instead of a key and plate. He would sit at his desk with his notepad at the ready, and would immediately write down all of the ideas that came to him immediately after his micro-nap.

But can a nap really help you be more creative? According to Matthew Walker, Ph.D. and author of “Why We Sleep,” the answer is yes, but it depends on the length of the nap. People who awakened from REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep managed to improve problem-solving by 15-35% over those who were awakened from NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and those who were simply awake. Not only that, but solutions came more easily and creatively.

The good news for nap fans is that it does not take Dali’s one-quarter of a second to get to REM sleep. In fact, for most people, it takes about an hour and a half to begin and lasts about 10 minutes. But if you don’t have time for a 90-minute nap in the afternoon, absolutely do not take a one-hour nap. You’ll awaken out of NREM sleep and will find yourself groggy and sluggish. Instead, a micro-nap might just be the answer.

Almost counter-intuitively, the alternative to a 90-minute nap is a much shorter one, between 10 and 20 minutes. According to author Daniel Pink, you can boost your productivity and alertness by taking what he calls the “nappuccino.” If you drink a cup of coffee or tea, it takes about 25 minutes for the caffeine to hit your system. He argues that the research supports the idea that the ideal nap consists of a cup of coffee or tea followed by a 10- to 20-minute sleep.

So, in the name of science, I decided to try it out.

I spend most workdays in the office at Click Workspace. The finished basement features a kitchenette, some phone booths and a meeting room, and a secluded nook with a massage chair. So I fixed myself a coffee from the Keurig, drank it quickly, and then closed my eyes and reclined in the massage chair for 10 minutes. I can’t say that this produced much of a nap, but it certainly was relaxing and put me in a great mood for the afternoon. I was more productive. It seemed that little nap was, after all, just what I needed.

There is a long history linking sleep to creativity. Any English major can tell you how Coleridge dreamed the poem “Kubla Khan,” woke up and wrote some down, but was interrupted, which is why the poem is only a fragment. Many famous thinkers in history have been nappers, from Eleanor Roosevelt to Albert Einstein.

It seems that the more that I learn about creativity, the more I discover that attempts to increase creativity are almost entirely dependent on the idea of taking breaks, doing something different, going outside or sleeping well. Almost always, the most effective way to get an idea is to step away from the desk and stop trying desperately to have an idea.

The modern workplace has tied us to our screens in a way that is constant and invasive. The majority of American workers are functioning on a sleep deficit and avoiding taking a vacation, lest they be seen as lazy or unnecessary. Ironically, those very things would make them more creative and effective, if only they would try them. I don’t suppose that I’ll be able to convince everyone in the United States to suddenly take up a siesta. But a nappuccino seems possible.

Lisa Papademetriou is a writer and the founder of, a tool designed to help writers improve motivation and organization.

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