This article was published online on December 19, 2020.
With the nap, it can go either way.
It can succeed, which is to say it can perform its function of refreshment and revival. Twenty minutes or so of light, untroubled sleep, just when you need it. After lunch, perhaps; nature gently makes the suggestion. So you settle; you sink. But not too far. A delicious shallowness. You open your eyes. You’re awake again—in a state of lamblike innocence, blinking limpidly and contentedly. The prickle of health is on your skin. Ah, it feels so good. What a great idea that was, to take a nap.
Or it can fail. You go down, you get swallowed. Sweating, fidgeting, moaning. After a slow-motion, deep-sea struggle, you flounder to wakefulness. You’re up, sort of. But you’ve spent too long in the shaggy embrace of Morpheus; now his stagnant chemicals are in your blood. You’ve aged, visibly. Your face looks like a sat-on bagel. Your last five meals are burning black smoke in your system. You blunder into the kitchen, craving sugar. The afternoon ahead of you is gray with torpor. Consciousness is a trial. Taking a nap was the worst idea in the world.
And you never know; that’s the thing. Certain biological variables may apply—your booze intake, how much of a sleep overdraft you happen to be running, your hormones, your glands, your general neurological-emotional tone—but basically it’s a mystery. The good nap alights upon you like the grace of God: weightless, unmerited, spirit-altering. The bad nap, the sad nap, lies in wait like Wile E. Coyote with an anvil.