In Praise of Naps

It’s 2:30 in the afternoon on a dreary, rainy Monday, and my brain is going on strike. I have spent the morning meeting with clients near Boston, which required more than two hours of commuting in a steady downpour, followed by an hour-long phone appointment when I got back home. The conversations were all meaningful, stimulating and productive.

But now I can’t fathom the idea of sitting at my desk for the rest of the afternoon, and I have a lot of work to do. So I set the timer on my iPhone for 20 minutes, lie down on the couch with a cozy blanket, and go to sleep. I wake up a few minutes before the timer sounds, totally refreshed. My mind is completely clear. What a gift.

Years ago, when I was in grad school, I first discovered my mental low point between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. (unfortunately, back then, I had a class during that hour, and even though I found the content fascinating, I struggled to stay awake). This circadian cycle is offset 12 hours later—if I wake around 2:30 a.m., I can’t get back to sleep until at least 4:00 a.m.

When I was in the early stages of scleroderma, freelancing as a writer, I had to take a nap nearly every afternoon. The disease was exhausting, and there was simply no way to get through the day otherwise. It’s been decades since that phase, and even as I’m often tired mid-afternoon, I usually power through. Often, it helps to walk Ginger. Fresh air works wonders for the mind.

But I realized from my experience Monday afternoon that it pays dividends to listen more closely when my body is trying to tell me to lie down. I’ve resisted naps for a long time, in part because I don’t want to lose precious hours to sleep, and in part, because I don’t want to backtrack to those early years of illness.

Twenty minutes is a perfect interval for a nap. I’m tempted to call it a “power nap,” but that phrase suggests you need to justify napping, so as not to seem lazy. Really, it just felt good—not too short to make me feel even more weary, and not to long to make me feel wasted for the rest of the day. I returned to my desk, ready to get to work, and made it through my entire task list with great efficiency.

I don’t expect to take a nap every afternoon. It all depends on what I’m doing and how I’m feeling. But I certainly won’t think of it as slacking off or backsliding with my scleroderma. I will consider it a worthwhile investment in my health, well-being and ability to do what I need to do. Not bad for 20 minutes.

Image Credit: “Our Sleeping Beauty,” by J.S. Pughe (1870-1909), illus. from Puck, vol. 41, no. 1041 (1897 February 17), cover. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at


  1. Pat Bizzell says:

    I couldn’t agree more about the virtues of naps! And they do not have to be long ones in order to refresh. I just wish I worked at home more often so a mid-afternoon nap would be an option. This past Monday was certainly the perfect day for one.

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