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Naps. One of my favorite indulgences and my dirty little secret from my time at Google.
In my early days as a Googler, I would experience an energy drought between 2pm and 5pm. It was consistent, like a planned mental blackout my body would enforce regardless of how much work I had to do.
At first, I tried to overcaffeinate and grab fistfuls of M&Ms to try to bargain with my exhausted mind. Those were palliative measures. The tiredness endured. Salesforce records blurred, presentations were created at the speed of an LA traffic jam.
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One day, I told a veteran Googler my plight. He asked me to follow him to the other side of the building. I began walking behind his lanky frame adorned with a green “Google” shirt1 as if he was guiding me to a secret place to bestow me with special powers.
There it was. Glistening in eggshell white, a 7 feet long reclining chair with a dome that would cover most of your torso as you laid in it. The mighty Nap Pod.
“Just take a 20 minute nap here,” my new found Sensei declared while shrugging as if his statement was more obvious than my weariness.
“Do you nap here?” I asked incredulously. “Yeah, all the time.” He responded as he walked away.
I cautiously laid on the chair and rotated the visor so that it covered me. It felt like being in the cockpit of a rocket just before takeoff, when everything is dark and mission command begins counting down. On the right armrest, I saw a panel that allowed me to choose the time and melody to accompany my brief sojourn into dreamland.
20 minutes later, a soft golden hue glowed brighter to awaken me from my non-conscious delight. Gone was the sluggishness, the drowsy stare, or feeling like my thoughts were walking through molasses. I had found my second wind.
Napping became a habit of mine for the next few years. It would typically be some time after lunch following the wisdom of the Spaniards. I would pop into that magic sleep machine and come out rejuvenated. Sometimes I would tell people sheepishly, as if I had sinned by resting. Other times, I would have a dazed look on my way back to my desk, and I would have to confess to my colleagues that, yes, I had taken a nap at 2pm in the afternoon, and that yes, I felt like a new man.
A few years later I stopped napping at Google. Optics became more relevant than impact. Forging the perfect caricature of a salesperson was encouraged. Sending emails became the goal–the prized KPI on our scoreboard.
“Don’t forget to build your brand everyday,” became an aphorism to ensure compliance. It was the Googley way of saying “we are watching you.” I played along. It didn’t quite feel right, but I figured I didn’t know better. My work suffered. The afternoons became dreadful. To survive, I returned to old vices of sugar and caffeine. I didn’t want to give anyone the impression that I was lazy. I didn’t want that scarlet letter over my chest.
One of the best pieces of career advice I’ve ever received was “manage your energy, not your time.” Corporate life forces us to try to learn all the productivity hacks to maximize our time so that we get through the workday at the speed of F1 cars. In the process, we avoid doing the things that would actually make us productive: Saying no to meetings, turning off notifications in favor of deep work, and taking naps.
Sleep deprivation makes us more error prone, impairs our ability to maintain focus, compromises memory recall, and impacts our mood (Everyone turns into Squidward after an all-nighter). Consider that being awake for 17 hours is the equivalent of having a blood alcohol level of .05%–we are half-drunk when sleep deprived.2
Now that I do not have to contend with incredulous looks in the safety of sabbatical life, napping has become a frequent habit. I tend to nap 3-5 times a week. Typically after lunch, 20 minutes, and in my bed (no fancy Nap Pod anymore).
Perhaps there are diminishing returns to this ritual, but I do know that in the United States we have a sleep deprivation crisis3, and that having good sleep hygiene is perhaps one of the most meaningful things you can do for your health.
Sleep health aside, naps are a rebellious act to the mechanization of Corporate life. We are not robots. We need rest. Rest makes us more attentive, aware, and focused. It is not weak to nap, it is smart. The wise know that peak performance comes hand in hand with peak rest. We cannot half ass giving our body rest if we really want to be at our best.
I know better. You know better. Take a damn nap.4
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Thank you toand Samantha Law for your eyes and inspiration in this essay.
Photo of the Week
I still have so much Google swag. Holding on to it like they are beanie babies to pay for my child’s education.
CDC page I pulled this stat from. Also, think about doctors who have to be on call for 24 hours straight. It doesn’t make sense to me either.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 3 adults in the United States reported not getting enough rest or sleep every day (source).
I realize that if you are a parent, you are laughing at the thought of taking a nap. Yes, it may be harder for you. I don’t know what to tell you other than I’m sorry and that I hope your little demon has smooth sleep regressions, learns to take 3 hour naps as soon as possible, and that childcare in this country stops being so damn expensive.