Health and Fitness

The Art of the Nap: A Ranking of the Top 10 Naps to Be Had

The big crash after the holiday meal is a solid contender, but it is not peak napping.
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The Christmas-Hanukkah-Kwanzaa-New Year corridor is always rich with opportunities to practice the art of the nap. That’s never been more true than right now, as we struggle under the weight of a mismanaged pandemic and an election season that does not seem to want to end. It is the tail end of the longest year of your life, the peak of a holiday season where you’re either locked in with your family or you haven’t found an ethical way to be in a room with them since last winter.

2020 was a lot, and as we strain to shake it off us, it is crucial to practice snooze-based self-care so we have the strength to push its big dumb ass out the door once and for all. 2021 is going to need you at a 10, so take this chance to recharge…the horizontal way!

But which nap is right for you? There are numerous options, and though we may not have access to all of them right now, it’s important to analyze and evaluate each; the world will return to some version of normal someday, and when it does, we’ll undoubtedly need to shut it out more than ever. Kick those shoes off and sink into the definitive ranking of naps.

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10| Hammock

Nearly always better in theory than in practice. The weather has to be exactly right: One wants sun but not too much, a breeze but not too cool, the crash of nearby waves if you can manage it. But a surfside hammock nap is an invitation to extreme sunburn, and if there has been morning dew or recent rain, all that moisture collects at the lowest point of the hammock’s arc, where your butt goes. You won’t notice it until it’s too late, and by then your nether region is soaked and you’re doomed to walk the earth like a toddler in a full diaper. And that’s if the hammock in question isn’t one of those macramé numbers that leave bondage rope marks across your back and legs. The hammock is our culture’s shorthand for easy living, a Dagwood Bumstead totem of suburban chill, but we need to move past it. We have couches now. Pass.

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(The exception here is the autumn hammock nap—under the dappled sunlight of a treesy backyard, near a freshly raked pile of leaves, in a chunky sweater. It is the rarest and most special of them all.)

9| Disco

The disco nap—that one you get sometime between 8 and 11 p.m., typically on a Saturday before going back out to dance well into your Sunday morning—is a tightrope walk. One must be able to pause whatever was cooking in the early evening and trust oneself not to sleep all the way into the next day. I find these naps pointless and difficult. It’s generally preferable simply to power through, to wring every drop out of your Saturday and go home to bed when your body and/or the bartender tells you it’s time. If nothing good happens after midnight, nothing legal happens after last call. The disco nap leads to deviant behavior, which by now you should know you can get done at a respectable hour.

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8| Poolside

Even the best deck chairs are awkward to sit in. It’s impossible to get comfortable, and if you are someone who can be shirtless and slightly reclined in public without dying of self-consciousness, I admire you but you are not my people. The only poolside seating option then is to go fully horizontal, book or magazine held up into the summertime air, chair slats pressing tiny canyons into your back. After you’ve read the same page three times, it is customary to give up on reading and simply fall asleep. It’s a sweaty affair, one for which you must prepare with ample sunscreen, and it’s not particularly restful, but there’s a certain Californian glamour to it. Acceptable.

Mick Jagger catches a decent-but-not-great hammock nap in 1968.

Photo by ADGER COWANS/ GETTY IMAGES.
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7| Back to your actual bed

It is tempting, as the pressure of the holiday season mounts, to give up and go all the way back to bed in the middle of the day. I would urge against it; there is an implied sickliness in the daytime trip to the bedroom, and this is not the year for that. If you’re lucky enough to have stayed healthy, act like it. Fall asleep on your couch.

6| In car, on road trip

Recommended for passengers only. Listen, we all go into road trips with the best of intentions. We promise we’ll be good company for our partners or friends who are at the wheel, we’ll keep the conversational ball in the air, we’ll make driving a team sport. But as the road stretches before us, as cows and Stuckey’s restaurants blur past, we are no match for the sandman. Surrender, rest that head against the cool of the window, shut those eyes in the middle of track four of whatever you’re listening to, and open them in the middle of track nine. It’s natural, it’s unavoidable, and honestly the driver could use a break from you anyway.

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5| The one you take before noon

This is the nap that says “all bets are off,” and the bets have never been off-er than in 2020. If you made it to this holiday season, you have done something strenuous and worthy of celebration. You should be able to run through a ribbon like they do in marathons. But you can’t, because the people who would hold it are stuck inside their homes, too. Instead, I say indulge in the forty most forbidden of winks: Have yourself a little nap before you’ve done anything with your day. Do it! The inner voice that tells you this nap is unearned is the voice of shame, the scowling nun inside your head who comes to rap your knuckles anytime you begin to feel like you’re worthy of pleasure or pampering. Tell her to get lost. This one’s just for you.

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4| Post-prandial, holiday

But do you recall the most famous naptime of all? The big crash after the heavy holiday meal is an American cliché, and for good reason. It is the most inevitable of naps and also among the most satisfying. Thirty or so minutes after that last bite, that perfect forkful of everything left on the plate of third helpings, you begin to feel the weight on your eyelids. Your speech slows. You scan the living room for a soft surface. And then it just happens. The nap has you. I am so experienced at this one I can bring it on at any time of year by turning on any football game. Whether it’s tryptophan or simple muscle memory, you will become publicly unconscious on a Thanksgiving or a Christmas, and the move is not to fight it. If everyone in your family is firing on all cylinders, someone will put Grandma’s Afghan blanket over you while you’re conked out, and you will wake full of complex carbohydrates and simple love.

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3| Easy chair, fireside, newspaper in lap

The old Sunday Special. It might not have happened to you yet, but you will eventually become a person who invests in a comfy chair, just like your dad did. You may move into a house with a fireplace. You should, as we become more and more fused with our screens, get at least a weekend subscription to your local paper and/or The New York Times. Once these planets have aligned, particularly in the winter months when the sun goes down at 1:15 p.m., you really must try this one. Feet on ottoman, blanket over legs, crossword halfway complete, fire crackling, loyal dog at your side. Old person behavior, suitable for all ages.

2| Post-prandial, weekday

The most fortunate among us are working from home these days, and unless we’re on a strict schedule or being micro-managed by a zealous supervisor, that means that on some level we’re making our own hours. And as someone who has made his own hours for many years, I can say this with authority: “Your own hours” means “all of them.” You are never fully off the clock, but by the same token, you’re never fully on it. If you schedule your meetings just right, you can go for a nice long run in the middle of the day, watch The Drew Barrymore Show as it airs, or most critically, pass the hell out after lunch. Nobody’s watching, and that 20 minutes of admin work will get done another time. This is a nap to cherish, a nap to fight for. If we stand our ground after Covid is over, we can wrestle America into the siesta-accommodating workday schedule of Spain. It’s an adjustment worth making, and an important step toward the normalization of lunchtime wine.

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1| In the movie theater, during the holiday season, seeing the big prestige movie with your parents

This nap is an old standby for me, an annual tradition I’ve enjoyed since before movie theaters became aspirational living rooms, before you could recline all the way back, before you could have chicken fingers and a bottle of chardonnay delivered right to your seat. The big, important Oscar-bait films—the movies it is safe to see with your folks without their losing interest or your having to update them on the latest trends in sex—tend to be released in December and hang out in your hometown multiplex for the days around Christmas. And toward the end of act two, as the John Williams score relaxes my central nervous system, the Milk Dud rush recedes, and Meryl Streep and/or Tom Hanks silently, somberly makes the decision that will spark act three, I drift off. I can’t help it. If I’m lucky, Mom will have nodded off for a different eight minutes and we’ll be able to piece the movie together on the drive home. This year, I’ll be missing this one most of all.

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This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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Dave Holmes
Writer-at-Large
Dave Holmes is Esquire.com's L.A.-based writer-at-large. His first book, "Party of One," was published in 2016.
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