The Power of Power Naps: Salvador Dali Teaches You How Micro-Naps Can Give You Creative Inspiration

dali naps 3

Image by Allan War­ren, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

In high school, I had a his­to­ry teacher who was, in his spare time, a mil­lion­aire own­er of sev­er­al mari­nas. He taught, he told us, because he loved it. Was he a good teacher? Not by the lights of most ped­a­gog­i­cal stan­dards, but he did intend, amidst all his las­si­tude and total lack of orga­ni­za­tion, to leave us all with some­thing more impor­tant than his­to­ry: the secret of his suc­cess. What was it, you ask? Naps. Each day he tout­ed the pow­er of pow­er naps with a pros­e­ly­tiz­er’s relent­less enthu­si­asm: 15 min­utes a few times a day, the key to wealth and hap­pi­ness.

We all thought he was benign­ly nuts, but maybe he was on to some­thing after all. It seems that many very wise, pro­duc­tive people—such as Albert Ein­stein, Aris­to­tle, and Sal­vador Dali—have used pow­er naps as sources of refresh­ment and inspi­ra­tion. Except that while my his­to­ry teacher rec­om­mend­ed no less than ten min­utes, at least one of these famous gents pre­ferred less than one. Dali used a method of tim­ing his naps that ensured his sleep would not last long. He out­lined it thus, accord­ing to Life­hack­er:

1. Sleep sit­ting upright (Dali rec­om­mends a Span­ish-style bony arm­chair)

2. Hold a key in your hand, between your fin­gers (for the bohemi­an, use a skele­ton key)

3. Relax and fall asleep (but not for too long…)

4. As you fall asleep, you’ll drop the key. Clang bang clang!

5. Wake up inspired!

Dali called it, fit­ting­ly, “Slum­ber with a key,” and to “accom­plish this micro nap,” writes The Art of Man­li­ness, he “placed an upside-down plate on the floor direct­ly below the key.” As soon as he fell asleep, “the key would slip through his fin­gers, clang the plate, and awak­en him from his nascent slum­ber.” He claimed to have learned this trick from Capuchin monks and rec­om­mend­ed it to any­one who worked with ideas, claim­ing that the micro nap “reviv­i­fied” the “phys­i­cal and psy­chic being.”

Dali includ­ed “Slum­ber with a key” in his book for aspir­ing painters, 50 Secrets of Mag­ic Crafts­man­ship, along with such nos­trums as “the secret of the rea­son why a great draughts­man should draw while com­plete­ly naked” and “the secret of the peri­ods of car­nal absti­nence and indul­gence to be observed by the painter.” We might be inclined to dis­miss his nap tech­nique as a sur­re­al­ist prac­ti­cal joke. Yet The Art of Man­li­ness goes on to explain the cre­ative poten­tial in the kind of nap I used to take in his­to­ry class—dozing off, then jerk­ing awake just before my head hit the desk:

The expe­ri­ence of this tran­si­tion­al state between wake­ful­ness and sleep is called hyp­n­a­gogia. You’re float­ing at the very thresh­old of con­scious­ness; your mind is slid­ing into slum­ber, but still has threads of aware­ness dan­gling in the world…. While you’re in this state, you may see visions and hal­lu­ci­na­tions (often of shapes, pat­terns, and sym­bol­ic imagery), hear nois­es (includ­ing your own name or imag­ined speech), and feel almost phys­i­cal sen­sa­tions…. The expe­ri­ence can essen­tial­ly be described as “dream­ing while awake.”

The ben­e­fits for a sur­re­al­ist painter—or any cre­ative per­son in need of a jolt out of the ordinary—seem obvi­ous. Many vision­ar­ies such as William Blake, John Keats, and Samuel Tay­lor Coleridge have made use of wak­ing dream states as well­springs of inspi­ra­tion. Both Beethoven and Wag­n­er com­posed while half asleep.

Sci­en­tists have found wak­ing dream states use­ful as well. We’ve already men­tioned Ein­stein. Bril­liant math­e­mati­cian, engi­neer, philoso­pher, and the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cist Hen­ri Poin­care also found inspi­ra­tion in micro naps. He point­ed out that the impor­tant thing is to make ready use of any insights you glean dur­ing your few sec­onds of sleep by writ­ing them down imme­di­ate­ly (have pen and paper ready). Then, the con­scious mind must take over: “It is nec­es­sary,” wrote Poin­care, “to put in shape the results of this inspi­ra­tion, to deduce from them the imme­di­ate con­se­quences, to arrange them,” and so forth. He also sug­gests that “ver­i­fi­ca­tion” of one’s hyp­n­a­gog­ic insights is need­ed above all, but this step, while crit­i­cal for the math­e­mati­cian, seems super­flu­ous for the artist.

So the micro nap comes to us with a very respectable pedi­gree, but does it real­ly work or is it a psy­cho­log­i­cal place­bo? The author of the Almost Bohemi­an blog writes that he has prac­ticed the tech­nique for sev­er­al weeks and found it “rel­a­tive­ly suc­cess­ful” in restor­ing ener­gy, though he has yet to har­ness it for inspi­ra­tion. If you asked empir­i­cal sleep researchers, they might tend to agree with my his­to­ry teacher: “Sleep lab­o­ra­to­ry stud­ies show,” writes Lynne Lam­berg in her book Bodyrhythms, “that a nap must last at least ten min­utes to affect mood and per­for­mance.” This says noth­ing at all, how­ev­er, about how long it takes to open a door­way to the uncon­scious and steal a bit of a dream to put to use in one’s wak­ing work.

Aside from the very spe­cif­ic use of the micro nap, the longer pow­er nap—anywhere from 10–40 minutes—can work won­ders in improv­ing “mood, alert­ness and per­for­mance,” writes the Nation­al Sleep Foun­da­tion. Short naps seem to work best as they leave one feel­ing refreshed but not grog­gy, and do not inter­fere with your reg­u­lar sleep cycle. The Sleep Foun­da­tion cites a NASA study “on sleepy mil­i­tary pilots and astro­nauts” which found that “a 40-minute nap improved per­for­mance by 34% and alert­ness by 100%.” Life­hack­er points to stud­ies show­ing that “pow­er naps, short 10 to 15 minute naps, improve men­tal effi­cien­cy and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty,” which is why com­pa­nies like Google and Apple allow their employ­ees to doze off for a bit when drowsy.

One stress man­age­ment site observes that the 10–15 minute pow­er nap does not even require a pil­low or blan­ket; “you don’t even need to go to sleep! You just need a com­fort­able place to lie on your back, put your feet up, and breathe com­fort­ably.” Such a prac­tice will not like­ly turn you into a world famous artist, poet, or sci­en­tist (or mil­lion­aire mari­na-own­ing, altru­is­tic high school teacher). It will like­ly reju­ve­nate your mind and body so that you can make much bet­ter use of the time you spend not sleep­ing.

via The Art of Man­li­ness

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How a Good Night’s Sleep — and a Bad Night’s Sleep — Can Enhance Your Cre­ativ­i­ty

Why You Do Your Best Think­ing In The Show­er: Cre­ativ­i­ty & the “Incu­ba­tion Peri­od”

How to Take Advan­tage of Bore­dom, the Secret Ingre­di­ent of Cre­ativ­i­ty

Music That Helps You Sleep: Min­i­mal­ist Com­pos­er Max Richter, Pop Phe­nom Ed Sheer­an & Your Favorites

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Benji says:

    Ha! This is my trick, I do it all the time. I’m no artist but I trav­el a lot and often find myself exhaust­ed in-between trains or busses and unable to think clear­ly or make deci­sions. So I just find a qui­et place, pull my hat down over my eyes, and drift off. I used to place some­thing in my hand some years ago, but now my body just jolts itself awake right at the cusp of sleep and I feel refreshed every time.

    I’ve also recent­ly heard of com­bin­ing these naps with caf­feine. Appar­ent­ly a cup of cof­fee can take 15–20 min­utes before you feel the effects. So drink­ing a cup, and then tak­ing a pow­er nap, could mean you wake up not only refreshed but just at the exact moment the caf­feine kicks in!

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