Words by Madeleine Dore
Photography by Mitch Lui
“Nature has not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts twenty minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces… Don’t think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That’s a foolish notion held by people who have no imaginations. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one – well, at least one and a half.”
There seems to be a popular notion that napping is synonymous with unproductivity and laziness.
Yet various studies have found a kip in the afternoon boasts a myriad of benefits – a nap can increase your patience, alertness, and memory performance. Even simply anticipating a nap can lower your blood pressure.
Instead of feeling guilty for having a lie-down, we should instead appreciate it’s strategic place in our workflow. The humble nap can be an antidote to procrastination or feeling stuck on an idea or task – you might awaken fresh with an opportunity, as Churchill suggests, for a “take-two” on the day.
For Sydney based artist Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, an afternoon nap in his studio can change his entire mood. “I could be in the worst mood ever” Ramesh explains, “and a nap will refresh me.”
With a revolving exhibition calendar and studio art practice to juggle, it would be natural to assume rest would be the first thing Ramesh sacrifices. Yet, it is in his busiest periods that taking a break becomes more highly prioritised.
“The thing I’ve found helps me the most when my schedule is busy is getting plenty of rest,” he explains.
His daily routine is carefully balanced between energetic demands and the need to regroup and re-cooperate: “If it’s been a really full day of setting up an installation, for example, it can be quite draining – I have to deal with a lot of people, be super polite, and make lots of creative, personal, and professional decisions. So at night I make sure to either do nothing or something really quiet, rest, and conserve energy to be active the next day.”
The physical quality of his work means that the need to rest manifests itself not only in the body, but also in his ability to practice creativity.
Ramesh explains: “Usually when I experience a creative funk it’s based on pure exhaustion because the work's really physical – some of the ceramic components weigh about 50 kilograms.”
“Sometimes I just don’t have a choice but to rest. Before I sent all my work away to the Ian Potter Museum, I was noticing my hands getting tingly, RSI vibes. I had to literally rest my hand and didn't use it to make anything for a bit.”
It’s also important to learn to take time out during the down periods, instead of feeling guilt over not doing anything. Ramesh admits downtime can often be the most difficult to manage in terms of direction and energy.
“I think the hard part is the pace is constantly changing. One week it might be super intense, the next week might be medium, but when it gets really low, it's a bit hard to figure out what to do.”
As musician and producer Brian Eno puts it: “The difficulty of always feeling that you ought to be doing something is that you tend to undervalue the times when you’re apparently doing nothing, and those are very important times. It’s the equivalent of the dream time, in your daily life, times when things get sorted out and reshuffled. If you’re constantly awake work-wise you don’t allow that to happen. One of the reasons I have to take distinct breaks when I work is to allow the momentum of a particular direction to run down, so that another one can establish itself.”
Choose your own nap
Much like our schedules and energy can fluctuate, so do our nap needs. Luckily, a plethora of nap styles and associated benefits exist to choose from.
Most afternoons, Ramesh slowly sips coffee before taking his siesta. The combination of sleep and caffeine is a popular one for an afternoon boost, and is supported by studies which indicate short 20-minute naps taken immediately after coffee are more effective energisers than napping or coffee alone.
In Take a Nap! Change Your Life, art of napping expert Dr Sarah Mednick devised a ‘map wheel’ tool that can be used to derive perfect nap times based on individual sleep patterns.
For a restful and relaxed nap to combat stress, Mednick suggests longer 90-minute naps in the late afternoon or early evening. Surprisingly, naps will not affect sleep as long as they are more than three hours before bedtime.
Mednick explains longer naps at around 2pm are ideal for boosting creativity. This is because a 90-minute nap is likely to have the optimal balance of all five sleep stages.
If you need to increase stamina or gear yourself to work late into the evening, studies have found that a 20-minute snooze eight hours after you wake up will be more energising than sleeping for longer in the morning.
Unable to leave the desk for an afternoon siesta? There’s always the one-minute micro-nap as devised by Salvador Dali. Detailed in his book 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship the micro-nap is touted as revivifying an artist’s entire physical and psychological being.
Dali’s 5 Steps To The Ultimate Nap:
1. Sleep sitting upright in an armchair.
2. Hold a heavy metal key in your hand.
3. Place a plate in your lap underneath the hand holding the key.
4. Allow yourself to drift to sleep. Once this happens, you will drop the keys, which will hit the plate and make a huge CLANG!
5. Wake up and congratulate yourself on achieving a micro-nap.
Rather than a sign of laziness, indulging in the humble snooze is likely to reap a myriad of rewards on our creativity, productiveness and wellbeing. Whether you take coffee before your nap or clasp onto a key, the takeaway is to diminish any guilt around rest and sleep and discover what helps you feel revivified each day.