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Napping Techniques Explained | How To Nap Like Your Heroes

The best napping techniques from our ancestors, famous people and the military

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The perfect napping technique

So you feel tired, you fancy a nap, but you don’t know how best to do it without waking up groggy and uncomfortable.

How exactly do you find the perfect napping technique?

Well, as always, the perfect napping technique does not exist.

Just like diet, exercise and meditation, it is just something that you must try in order to see what works best for you.

Here I provide you with techniques of people who napped, why they napped and how they napped.

It’s up to you to find your perfect napping technique!


Referring to the sleep bible, Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep, I managed to find an interesting take on napping…

Walker describes how people from the Gabra tribe in Kenya, the San people in Namibia and the Hadza people in Tanzania sleep for similar periods at night (around 7 or 8 hours), followed by a 30 to 60-minute nap in the afternoon.

These tribes follow our ancestors’ rituals. They have not conformed to the trends of modern society and still operate as they did thousands of years ago.

The Tribal Method

  • Nap Length & Timing – 7 to 8-hours sleep at night, plus a 30 to 60-minute nap in the afternoon.

  • Napping Position & Location – In a comfortable position (not specified).

  • Waking – Not specified (I’m guessing not using an alarm clock!) – Wake naturally.

Thomas Edison

You would expect a man that gave the world eternal light to be a professional at sleeping with the lights on and, by all accounts, he was!

Thomas Edison has been famously reported to have engaged in regular siestas to help compensate for the intensity of his work.

He did not sleep much during the night; however, most days, he took a couple of brief naps, utilising cots, stools, chairs and even desks that were scattered around his home.

He used naps to refresh so he could get back to work with vigour and enthusiasm.

As one is about to pass out of the library attention is arrested by an incongruity in the form of a cot, which stands in an alcove near the door. Here Edison, throwing himself down, sometimes seeks a short rest during specially long working hours. Sleep is practically instantaneous and profound, and he awakes in immediate and full possession of his faculties, arising from the cot and going directly “back to the job” without a moment’s hesitation…

 – Frank Lewis Dyer and Thomas Martin write in Edison: His Life And Inventions

It was also used for him to improve his creativity.

He would use several volumes of Watt’s Dictionary of Chemistry for a pillow, and we fellows used to say that he absorbed the contents during his sleep, judging from the flow of new ideas he had on waking.

 – Frank Lewis Dyer and Thomas Martin write in Edison: His Life And Inventions

Edison always had a theory that people slept too much and has been reported to pride himself on working without sleep, sometimes for 72 hours straight; however, when proposing this theory, Edison may have overlooked his competence at being able to sleep anywhere.

One of Edison’s associates once told Henry Ford that Edison’s “genius for sleep equaled his genius for invention. He could go to sleep anywhere, anytime, on anything” (from the book Sleepfaring by Jim Horne).

Sometimes, When Mr Edison had been working long hours, he would want to have a short sleep. It was one of the funniest things I have ever witnessed to see him crawl into an ordinary roll-top desk and curl up and take a nap.

Frank Lewis Dyer and Thomas Martin write in Edison: His Life And Inventions

It’s true that Edison didn’t sleep much throughout the night because of his enthusiasm for invention.

There were times when Edison would operate on three or four 30-minute naps in a 24-hour period; however, on a normal day, Edison often had a several 3-hour naps.

The Edison Method

  • Nap Length & Timing – 3-hour naps spread throughout a 24-hour period.

  • Napping Position & Location – Anywhere and everywhere.

  • Waking – Not specified.

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo Da Vinci followed an extreme polyphasic sleep schedule, described as the Uberman sleep cycle.

This is very similar to Edison but much more extreme!

The Uberman cycle consists of only 20-minute naps spread equidistantly throughout the day (e.g. every 4 hours), giving Da Vinci more time awake but also making it difficult for him to endeavour through long-term projects.

The inventor, Nikola Tesla also subscribed to this method, once claiming that he never slept for more than two hours per day.

I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success … Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.

 – Nikola Tesla

The Da Vinci Method

  • Nap Length & Timing – 20-minute naps every 4 hours.

  • Napping Position & Location – In a comfortable position (not specified).

  • Waking – Not specified.

Albert Einstein

Einstein was a devoted sleeper, reportedly sleeping for at least 10 hours per night!

He also slept frequently throughout the day!

You may question how he achieved anything if all he did was sleep?

Well, Einstein’s daily dozes were of the micro variety, lasting mere seconds.

He did this not to replace sleep but to spur his imagination and creativity.

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.

 – Albert Einstein

He used what’s called the “hypnogogic” state to solve imposing scientific problems.

The same state that trained hypnotherapist, Steve Guy described in section 3 of The Black Country Buddhas podcast when discussing how hypnotherapy can be used to treat anxiety issues.

This half-dream, half-wake state of mind seems to be very useful for creatives and problem solvers alike, unlocking powerful visionary thoughts.

Einstein wasn’t the only one utilising this hypnogogic napping strategy.  Eccentric artist Salvador Dali and Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle also benefited from it.

Salvador Dali even wrote a technique for taking the perfect nap, without falling into deep sleep, in his book “50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship

His technique:

  1. Sit upright when you nap
  2. Hold a key between your fingers above an upside-down plate
  3. Relax
  4. When you fall asleep, you’ll drop the key onto the plate
  5. Dropping the key wakes you before you fall into deep sleep

The Einstein Method

  • Nap Length & Timing – 10 hours per night, plus several micro-sleeps lasting seconds.

  • Napping Position & Location – In a chair.

  • Waking – Dropping object on a surface that will wake you up within seconds.

John F. Kennedy

JFK famously took an early afternoon nap each day. After a period of swimming and exercise, he was said to eat lunch in bed and settle down for a nap.

Sounds like a dream wouldn’t you say? However, I do assume that the man who ran the most powerful nation in the world and successfully committed to landing a man on the moon, had a little more on his plate than his exercise, lunching and napping habits suggest!

Whilst he was napping, he insisted on no interruptions unless it was an absolute emergency. JB West, Head of the household staff, wrote in her book that “during those hours the Kennedy doors were closed. No telephone calls were allowed, no folders sent up, no interruptions from the staff. Nobody went upstairs, for any reason.”

He would take a 1 to 2-hour nap, spend an hour with his wife, then he was back in the Oval Office conducting his business.

Kennedy’s wife encouraged Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, to take naps, telling him, “It changed Jack’s whole life” – Jack being a common nickname for John.

The JFK Method

  • Nap Length & Timing – 1 to 2 hours in the early afternoon of each day after exercise and lunch.

  • Napping Position & Location – In quiet, comfortable surroundings.

  • Waking – Not specified.

Jocko Willink

Those of you who are privy to his 4:30am Timex -faced Instagram posts will know that, former US Navy SEAL, Jocko Willink, is a notorious non-sleeper.

He has been given the genetic gift of being able to operate on very little sleep. A genetic gift that Matthew Walker attributes to “a sleepless elite.”

The term “elite” is not used lightly!

Dr. Thomas Roth, Director of the Sleep Disorders and Research Center at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, once said “the number of people who can survive on five hours sleep or less without any impairment, expressed as a percentage of the population, and rounded to a whole number, is zero!”

However, Jocko does admit to taking power naps.

Power naps that include raising his feet above the level of his heart.

Soldiers sleeping

Jocko explains in his book, Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual, that whenever he felt tired and had a short break in his schedule, he would lie flat on his back and raise his feet above his heart to take the strain away from his circulatory system.

He would then nap for 6 to 8 minutes and, in his own words, “would wake up feeling completely refreshed.”

Initially finding this in high school, Jocko continued to use it during his SEAL training and when on long, “in-field” patrols with SEAL Teams.

He believes that raising his legs above heart level gives him more energy when he wakes.

The Military Method

  • Nap Length & Timing – 6 to 8 minutes whenever tired.

  • Napping Position & Location – Flat on back with feet elevated above heart level.

  • Waking – Alarm after 6 to 8 minutes.

What’s your favourite napping technique?

So there you have it!

Many methods from past and present.

Which one do you use and why?

For more on napping please see related articles:

Also use other articles in this series to understand the health befits of sleep, how to ensure you get enough sleep and tactics you can use to improve the quality of your sleep.

Be aware that some of the tactics mentioned in this article have been scientifically proven to harm your overall health!

It is highly recommended that you get at least 7.5 hours sleep per night!

8 hours sleep per night is a great place to start!

If you feel like you need a little siesta in the day, you should listen to your body and refresh!

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