The Napping Habits of 8 Famous Men

by Brett & Kate McKay on March 14, 2011 · 64 comments

in A Man's Life, Lessons In Manliness

A few weeks ago, we covered the myriad of amazing benefits provided by the too-oft maligned nap. If you’re still not convinced of the benefits of napping and are in need of some additional inspiration, or, you’re simply curious about how some of history’s most famous nappers, today we provide a look at the napping habits of 8 eminent men.

Winston Churchill

“Nature has not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts twenty minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.”

Churchill’s afternoon nap was a non-negotiable part of his relaxed approach to his daily routine. Churchill would start his day at 8 am by eating breakfast, answering letters, and dictating to his secretaries, all of which was conducted while still in bed. This bout of work was followed by a bath, a long lunch, and plenty of sipping on watered-down whisky. After lunch it was time to paint or play cards with his wife, Clementine. Then it was nap time. Churchill would take off his clothes and climb into bed for up to two hours of solid napping. At 6:30 he would rise, take another bath,  and enjoy a long dinner. He finally got down to business at 11 pm and would work for several hours before going to bed and repeating the cycle over again. An unapologetic night owl, Churchill felt that his naps helped him get twice as much done each day (which makes one wonder just how little he would have worked without it!)

Nap were so sacrosanct to Churchill that he kept a bed in the Houses of Parliament and believed that napping was the key to his success in leading the country through the Battle of Britain.

Lyndon B. Johnson

LBJ catches some winks aboard Air Force One.

When Lyndon B. Johnson assumed the presidency, he set out to pass an extremely ambitious legislative agenda, including a war on poverty, the protection of civil rights, the commencement of public works, and the cutting of taxes. To accomplish his goals, LBJ was prepared to work like a dog and to this end he adopted a “two-shift day.” He woke up at 6:30 or 7, read the newspapers, and then headed to the White House where he worked until 2 pm. He would then exercise, taking a swim or brisk walk, before donning his pajamas and settling in for a 30 minute nap. He awoke up at 4, changed into clean clothes and began his “second shift” of the day, sometimes working until 1 or 2 in the morning.

Napoleon Bonaparte

During campaigns, Napoleon was a whirlwind of energy, galloping from place to place, poring over maps, and pondering strategy. He would go days without changing clothes or lying down for a full night’s sleep. But he had the ability, as many great leaders do it seems, of being able fall asleep at the drop of a hat. This ability was likely a product of his supreme confidence. Napoleon could sleep like a baby right before battle and even when cannons were booming nearby. As they have been proven to do by modern science, Napoleon’s naps staved off the fatigue which stalks those who skip a whole night’s sleep. Then, when the storm of battle was over, the general would sleep for an eighteen hour stretch.

John F. Kennedy

After a mid-morning stint of swimming and exercise, John F. Kennedy would eat his lunch in bed and then settle down for a nap.  He would have his valet draw the drapes and ask not to be disturbed unless it was a true emergency. He would then quickly fall asleep for a 1-2 hour nap. Jackie would always join him no matter what she was doing when her husband’s nap commenced, leaving an assistant to entertain her guests. Head of the household staff, JB West, recalled 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.”

After awakening from his nap, Kennedy would take his second hot bath of the day, resume meetings in the Oval Office at 3:30 pm, knock off around 7:30 or 8:00, take another swim, and change his clothes for dinner. Kennedy wore at least three different sets of clothing every single day he was President.

Jackie was the one who later encouraged LBJ to take naps, telling him, “It changed Jack’s whole life.”

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison was something of a self-hating napper. He liked to boast about how hard he worked, how he slept only three or four hours a night, and how he would sometimes work for 72 hours straight. But in truth the key to his spectacular productivity was something he was loathe to mention and hid from others: daily napping. Once when his friend Henry Ford paid a visit to his lab, Edison’s assistant stopped him from going into the inventor’s office because Edison was snoozing. Ford said, “But I thought Edison didn’t sleep very much.” To which the assistant answered, “He doesn’t sleep very much at all, he just naps a lot.”

Edison said he could sleep “as sound as a bug in a barrel of morphine” and he often got in a couple of 3 hour naps during the day. One of his associates said that Edison’s “genius for sleep equaled his genius for invention. He could go to sleep anywhere, anytime, on anything.” Indeed, he would often curl up for his naps on a workbench or in a closet.

Stonewall Jackson

Jackson, a general cut from the same cloth as Napoleon, could nap in any place—by fences, under trees, on porches–even in the stress of war. He liked longer naps but also had the reputation for taking quick, 5 minute siestas to rest his eyes. A couple of anecdotes of the General’s napping habits from A Thesaurus of Anecdotes of and Incidents in the Life of Lieut-General Thomas Jonathan Jackson by Elihu Rile:

“During the fury of the struggle at Malvern Hill, Jackson was roused with great difficulty from a heavy slumber, and informed of the situation. Those around him were apprehensive of the result, for attack after attack on our part had been repulsed with severe loss. Jackson, upon recovering his consciousness, merely said, ‘McClellan is only fighting to get away. In the morning, he will be gone.’ He immediately resumed his nap, and Dr. Dabney adds that, upon hearing his opinion, he at once followed his example. When the morning light dawned upon this scene of blood, every trace of the enemy had disappeared.” –Dr. B. L. Dabney

“Talking about Jackson’s propensity to sleep, I remember after the battles of the Seven Days’ Fight around Richmond one Sunday we went to Dr. Hoge’s church. He went to sleep soon after the service began and slept through the greater part of it. A man who can go to sleep under Dr. Hoge’s preaching, can go to sleep anywhere on the face of this earth. When the service was over the people climbed over the backs of the pews to get near him, and the aisles became crowded and General Jackson embarrassed. Presently he turned to me and said: ‘Doctor, didn’t you say the horses were ready?’ and I said, ‘Yes, sir,’ and we bolted out of church.

Many a night I have kept him on his horse by holding to his coattail. He always promised to do as much for me when he had finished his nap. He meant to do it, I am sure, but my turn never came.” — Dr. Hunter McGuire

Ronald Reagan

Reagan, preaching to the converted.

Ronald Reagan was a controversial napper. Critics tried to use his rumored propensity for napping as proof of a lackadaisical approach to the presidency and a reminder of his advanced age. Nancy always denied that her husband was a napper. But his diaries show that he at least occasionally indulged in the nap, noting in reference to his daily schedule that “afternoon is still nap time” and often taking one to recharge before donning a tux and attending a formal nighttime event. He also enjoyed turkey hunts for the opportunity they provided for naps. For his part, Reagan, as he did with many things, had a sense of humor about the criticism over his napping. When he was leaving office, he joked that his cabinet chair should be inscribed with, “Ronald Reagan Slept Here.”

Salvador Dali

Eccentric artist Salvador Dali believed that one of the secrets to becoming a great painter was what he called “slumber with a key.” “Slumber with a key” was an afternoon siesta designed to last no longer than a second. To accomplish this micro nap, Dali recommended sitting in a chair with a heavy metal key pressed between the thumb and forefinger of the left hand. A plate would be placed upside down on the floor underneath the hand with the key. The moment Dali fell asleep, the key would slip from his finger, clang the plate, and awaken him. Dali believed this tiny nap “revivified” an artist’s whole “physical and physic being.”

Dali said that he had learned the “slumber with a key” trick from the Capuchin monks and that other artists he knew also used it. Albert Einstein “napped” this way as well, as have other inventors and thinkers who believed this nap inspired their ideas and creativity. These men were unknowingly taking advantage of what scientists today call the “hypnogogic” nap, when the mind, before it reaches Stage 2 sleep, unlocks free flowing creative thoughts. It’s a topic interesting enough to warrant its own post!


{ 64 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Arlen Jay March 15, 2011 at 12:26 am

A man I once worked for seemed to work tirelessly. He would often make appointments at 6:30 am and be up till near midnight. I asked him how he was able to do this…his smiled and simply answered “naps.”. Ever since then I try to take a nap most every day.

2 Paul March 15, 2011 at 12:45 am

It’s kind of funny how hard kids fight when we try to put them down for a nap. I can’t wait to shut my eyes as soon as my son falls asleep.

I work retail so I can’t exactly nail down a time of day for a nap. When I work until closing (9 pm) I’ll eat at 5-5:30 and close my eyes for the rest of the hour. Opening shifts (9-4 or 5) I’ll eat something on the fly then take my half hour break to close my eyes.

3 Justin March 15, 2011 at 12:56 am

Leonardo Da Vinci also had

4 Justin March 15, 2011 at 12:59 am

The sleeping habits of Da Vinci are also quite interesting. He would sleep a total of 2 hours a day. He would sleep in ten minute bursts for every 4 hours he was awake.

5 Jonathan Manor March 15, 2011 at 2:53 am

Interesting. I found that Pavlina’s post on sleeping somewhat goes with this post. In Pavlina’s post, he says that going to bed at a certain point won’t help anyone fall asleep, instead the subject will find themselves awake but in bed. Instead of trying to sleep early, they were to sleep whenever they were tired and fix their sleep schedule by getting out of bed even if it meant that you slept less than an hour.

6 Paul W March 15, 2011 at 6:30 am

Interestingly Churchill used to drink continuously through the day and reportedly drank a bottle of champagne over lunch and another over dinner with sherry, claret, whisky and port filling in the gaps between. Given the amount he drank it’s surprising that he was ever awake.
He also maintained a small army of servants to minister to his every need throughout his life which probably explains why he was able to get so much done while apparently doing very little.
None of which of course takes anything away from his incredible achievements.

7 Bryan Lee Sammis March 15, 2011 at 7:24 am

And people have the umitigated gaul to accuse me of being lazy whe I take my naps during lunchtime at work!!!

8 Daniel March 15, 2011 at 7:31 am

Justin, Didn’t Kramer try that on Seinfeld? That was a funny episode.

9 Stanley March 15, 2011 at 7:55 am

I love me some naps! I use my break at work for naps.

10 OkieRover March 15, 2011 at 8:09 am

After I retire, I may become one of the world’s greatest statesman, inventor, painter, generals. I plan to nap often.

11 BenL March 15, 2011 at 8:46 am

As his wife accompanied him every day, I find it hard to believe that JFK spent all 1-2 hours sleeping during his “naptime.”

12 Kerry Palmer March 15, 2011 at 9:08 am

Harry Truman was known for napping as well. In fact, he was taking a nap in a second floor bedroom at Blair House when two men attempted to assassinate him. Hearing the racket outside, he poked his head out of the window, much to the horror of the Secret Service agents working feverishly to prevent him from being killed!

Thanks for a great post and a great blog!

13 Scott March 15, 2011 at 9:29 am

Naps are amazing – thank you for highlighting their value.

Another post with a Confederate General? I was hoping that we were done with that once and for all.

14 Grant March 15, 2011 at 9:49 am

Whats more amazing are those who nap and don’t feel like crap afterwords like I do.

I am glad AoM put another article that included a Confederate general. I was worried the AoM didn’t have the nuts to anymore after all the pathetic and hate filled complaints against posting anything positive about Confederates.

15 Carter March 15, 2011 at 10:08 am

Thank you, I am printing this off and taking it to my boss right now! I’m sure I could get more work done if I took a nap!

16 Rick Jacobson March 15, 2011 at 10:08 am
17 Ravi Gupta March 15, 2011 at 10:13 am

That’s amazing how many famous people nap. It makes wonder if any studies were done on napping and how it affects a person. I find that sometimes a nap makes me more groggy than before and other times it makes feel refreshed.

-Ravi G.

18 Tom March 15, 2011 at 10:17 am

Good luck convincing corporate America to let us take a nap on their dime

19 William Blake March 15, 2011 at 10:40 am

I’m curious if meditation would yield similar results.

20 tim_lebsack March 15, 2011 at 10:44 am

Naps are fantastic.

If you’re going to stop mentioning CSA military officers, be sure to delete the posts about every ancient history military officer also.

21 Romeyn Prescott March 15, 2011 at 10:48 am

I think JFK might have been…”concerned” that JOK was advising LBJ on his nap schedule…

22 Dave March 15, 2011 at 10:53 am

I’ve hated the habit I seem to have had of a two-hour nap sometime during the day. But, if it’s good enough for Sir Winston Churchill, then it’s good enough for me.

Now, about the watered-down whiskey… :)

23 Yayaati Joshi March 15, 2011 at 11:02 am

I agree with what has been written as I have personally experienced freshness after taking a nap. I usually work for 6 days a week and 12 hours a day. And a nap helps immensely in keeping me energetic.

24 Asim Kumandan March 15, 2011 at 11:32 am

I am an EMT by profession and work what some might call an unhealthy amount of hours. My trick is to try and get in cat naps when I can and I try to get them under 3 hours but atleast 20 minutes this way I find I keep my mind fresh. Also though I can’t go more than two days with a soilid nights sleep 8-10 hours of undisturbed pure REM sleep but no more than 10 otherwise I’m wasted on the rest of the day.

25 Punditus Maximus March 15, 2011 at 11:59 am

Probably not best to include Reagan on this one, as he actually did have Alzheimer’s for most of his term. So his naps were a function of severe illness, rather than any routine. Sad but true.

26 Gary Morris March 15, 2011 at 12:05 pm

I have taken naps daily (when I could) for as long as I can remember and can fall asleep in seconds. I have been preaching for people to take naps for many years.

For me, 15 – 20 minutes is all I need and I feel like I have had a whole nights rest.

When the need for a nap hits me, it is better that I get one than try to ignore it. Otherwise I am constantly fighting sleep, it’s hard to concentrate, and I am really not that productive.

When our business is big enough for employees, I will allow my employees to take at least one nap per shift if they want it. I will work it into the schedule to be sure that it will work.

Heck, I’ll close my doors for thirty minutes everyday if I have to. That’s how important naps are to me. :)

27 Ed Mitchell March 15, 2011 at 2:21 pm

I too unashamedly relish a nap of an afternoon. They’re an essential part of my working day… well, I think so. The best naps are those ones you know you’ve earned…

28 Dev March 15, 2011 at 2:42 pm

I am feeling sleepy :-)

29 Michael March 15, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Thanks for the info on napping. I find that I function with short naps (which I can generally only manage by napping in an uncomfortable position such as a chair). If I have long naps (over 20 minutes, for example) during the day then the nap interferes with my nocturnal sleep–which I do need.

Falsehoods about Reagan’s health while in office are an unfortunate addition to this discussion.

30 Bill March 15, 2011 at 4:05 pm

And yet I’d take Reagan w/ Alzhemier’s over the last 3 Presidents any day, and certainly the current one.

31 Gary Deagle March 15, 2011 at 4:49 pm

I love it when I can get a nap in. If it is longer than 30 minutes though I end up feeling worse though.

32 Brett March 15, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Considering that he was diagnosed with the disease in 1994, and, he had to be diagnosed by doctors, because there were 0 symptoms, and his term as President was over in 1989, he didn’t actually have any real illness, certainly not a “severe.”

33 Drew Scott March 15, 2011 at 5:17 pm

I have already proposed to my boss that we introduce daily nap time on a trial basis and see if it has the positive effects as described in various articles. I doubt that it will be introduced. I have noticed that in global business the managers dont think very globally, but its worth a try.

34 nathan March 15, 2011 at 11:13 pm

Ah yes the amazing nap. Thanks for thia most excellent summary!

Has anyone read the 4hour body by Tim Ferriss? He has a whole section highlighting sleep tips such as proper napping. Check it out!

35 Sean March 15, 2011 at 11:56 pm

Calvin Coolidge also reportedly took 4 hour naps in the White House . . . in addition to a good 7-8 hours at night. I’m not sure this sleep pattern is productive!

36 Kevin Benko March 16, 2011 at 1:43 am

In the military, I had learned the fine art of napping. During a 36-48 hour exercise, where most of the time was spent doing the “hurry up and wait” routine, I opted to take brief naps when I could, rather than pass the “wait” time playing cards like some of the other people in my unit. 23 years after my my honorable discharge, I still have the ability to just sit down and take a brief nap anywhere, any time, under any conditions.

37 Adam Ahern March 16, 2011 at 6:18 am

Do you think that early rising, in conjunction with afternoon napping, would be a good habit to develop?

I’m currently reading William Alcott’s Young Man’s Guide and I get the impression that he wouldn’t have been too fond of the practice of napping. He was very big on early rising though.

38 Myles March 16, 2011 at 11:19 am

It’s decided then, i will add naps to my daily schedule and get up earlier in the morning.

39 David T March 16, 2011 at 11:36 am

Of all the wonderful skills, life lessons, etc I took from the military, toward the top of my list in usefulness is the ability to fall asleep on command under just about any circumstances you could think of. People think you’re crazy for being able to sleep like that, but I sure don’t mind :-)

40 ARP March 16, 2011 at 12:34 pm

William Blake- studies say probably. Meditation causes your brainwaves to be similar to light sleep. So meditation is roughly equivalent to a short nap. However, meditation can’t replace good ol’ REM sleep. Of course, much of this depends on how well you can meditate- you really need to be able to clear your mind for an extended period for it to be of any use.

41 Eric C March 16, 2011 at 12:48 pm

I love naps they got me through undergrad. I would start the day at 5:30 go to work for a couple hours go to classes, I would run up to my room after my afternoon class and sleep till dinner. Then it was time for homework till 11 or 12 pm. Maybe some vids afterwards. This was the routine every day. Maybe an article on the importance of healthy recreation would be in order. To many people work themselves to death. Myself included.

42 Mike J March 16, 2011 at 12:53 pm

I take a nap every day from 1pm to 2pm. i have done so for many years, and it don’t think I could live without it. It revitalizes me

43 creesto March 16, 2011 at 1:19 pm

I do not understand the North vs South angst found in some comments. My ancestors came over on the Mayflower, I am as Son of the American Revolution, and I had ancestors who served on both sides of The Great Conflict. We’re all Americans, whether we arrived yesterday or 300 years ago, whether our ancestors wore Blue or wore Grey. Party on, Wayne

44 David March 16, 2011 at 2:15 pm

“Jackie would always join him no matter what she was doing when her husband’s nap commenced”

As others have suggested, you’re definitely stretching the definition of “nap.” How do I know? Experience, son.

45 Matt March 16, 2011 at 5:29 pm

All hail the power of the nap! The ‘Dali’ method is a new one. I would have never thought that napping ‘for a second’ was possible, let alone helpful.

46 Peter Thurston March 16, 2011 at 5:42 pm

To be clear, I don’t think anyone’s advocating taking a nap “on the company’s dime”, but rather on your own time [read: allotted break time as allowed by your employer]. Of course – maybe everyone’s advocating taking a nap during work-time and I’m wrong. It’s happened before [many times] and I haven’t had a nap yet today to refresh my mind. So ya know…

47 Gil March 16, 2011 at 6:12 pm

We had a tradition in the Navy on board ships called nooners. We’d eat lunch early as we could, then head off to berthing to catch a 30-45 minute nap. Since we weren’t allowed in the rack dressed, we slept on the floor. You had to be pretty careful walking around berthing during lunch because the lights were off and the floors were littered with snoozing bodies. Definitely a great way to re-energize for the rest of the day.

48 Frederik March 20, 2011 at 7:58 am

It’s nice to hear that i’m not the only one taking lots of naps, and i like the developement that naps are now kind of masculine and not just for elderly!


49 David Mc. March 21, 2011 at 2:03 pm

I’m a big fan of naps. I have the luxury of working from home 1 day per week and I spend my lunch hour resting up. Hands down the best day of the work week. Being in MBA school and working 50+ hours per week can drain just about anyone, without adequate rest it will take a toll on your productivity.

50 Chris March 22, 2011 at 11:16 am

As someone blessed with the capacity to nap anywhere, anytime, I’ve often been accused of being lazy or not very serious, despite my efforts to extol the virtues of the midday siesta. Thanks for the ammunition, Brett…I will share this with my detractors immediately – once I’m finished napping.

51 sean March 22, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Mr.G. Morris when your company gets up & running I would be extremely interested in a position with your company…naps are great

52 J March 22, 2011 at 12:52 pm

I like this. Should change my workday accordingly.

53 Super Acai 1200 March 23, 2011 at 6:05 am

I *wish* I could nap! It takes me an hour to fall asleep (just as I’m dozing off, I always have to get up and pee AGAIN) and then if I do, I’m like you and sleep a long time.
What is that thing that makes men fall asleep in moments, even sitting up? I want some of that…!

54 Steve March 25, 2011 at 12:07 pm

In his book, “How To Stop Worrying and Start Living” Dale Carnegie has advocated the use of naps. However, don’t let your Doctor know you are napping in the afternoon or he will try and get you to have a sleep study done.

55 Rob March 25, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Haha Vieras has a point – none of them did day-to-day work as we know it, they were either leaders, or worked on their own time with no deadlines! Unfortunately not very applicable to 95% of us.. right??

56 Wilfred Joseph March 28, 2011 at 9:40 pm

I love it. I once went for almost week while renovating my B&B of not sleeping more that 3-4 hours at a time. I would work 12-16 hours and then sleep for 3-4 hours then work a few hours (4-6) then nap for half an hour. After doing that for a while I got worried about how well I was feeling and thought I was going manic from lack of sleep. I the went to bed and slept for 12 hours.
i now take a nap if I going to pull an all nighter or have to work for long periods of time. it is very invigorating.

57 Firas March 30, 2011 at 12:05 am

It’s known that naps are relaxing and refreshing. but aren’t there women nappers?
yes, all leaders. but, in china, napping at work is a regular practice at work. Someone told me that he was in a meeting there, and suddenly, mattresses were pulled from underneath the desks, light went dim, and snoring started. It is the daily 30min nap for all employees.

58 SulfurSoap December 22, 2012 at 6:33 pm

to those commenting about corporate america – just walk away. Just do it. And walk away from all those things you have convinced yourself that you need. Fact is that you don’t really. Ha ha.

59 SulfurSoap December 22, 2012 at 6:37 pm

oh yea, one more thing, JFK did a whole lot more than nap for his diversions. He liked a lot of sex with young girls to energize him.

60 Maria March 14, 2013 at 10:13 am

My father was a fairly successful businessman. He had several stores, real estates along with a few others businesses. He was also a napper and could fall asleep at the drop of a hat. He learned to fall asleep almost instantly and wake up a short time later while riding the subway in NYC.

61 Richard Williams March 14, 2013 at 10:59 am

This makes me tired. ;-)

Great post.

62 Nexus6 March 14, 2013 at 11:11 am

I don’t understand how people can fall asleep on short notice in the middle of the day. It was a skill I wish I had, as I work at home and there’s plenty of opportunity for napping.
This article is an interesting coincidence as I just heard a story on the radio about a company that had added a “nap room” to their offices and everyone including management thought it was the greatest thing – great for productivity and morale. The segment made it sound like a new idea, but I clearly remember that a small (200 or so employees) cmopany I worked at in the early 90s had one and it was considered novel at the time too. I don’t know if anyone actually used it though, I suspect not.

63 Kenneth Lange July 9, 2013 at 12:43 pm

When a man reach a position of some importance, his day will quickly vanish in meetings, administrative duties and other small interruptions that need his attention to keep things moving.

I see Churchill’s napping as a safeguard against his day being consumed by these administrative tasks, so that there would be no uninterrupted time slots available for his writing, which creative work inheritably requires. By taking his siesta he could simply stay up much longer and write during those hours where he was least likely to be interrupted. That is, from ten in the evening to three in the morning according to his research assistant.

Was this approach successful? I would say so, Churchill credentials as a wartime politician and leader are second to none. And less well-known is that he was also the highest paid author of his generation – and during the war he actually used these late night writing sessions to write his inspirational and unforgettable speeches to uplift England’s fighting spirit in those dark days when she stood alone. The Nobel committee even noted this when they awarded him the prize in 1953 for “his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.”

64 Dean March 20, 2014 at 7:58 pm

About 15 years ago I heard an author say he was most creative upon waking up. Quite often I can wake up and think of a problem with new clarity and creativity. Many many times this has led me to do some great new ideas.
Perhaps these great men new sleep is the best way to clear the mind and trigger abstract ideas.

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