It’s impossible to build anything without a solid foundation, and a full night of deep, restful sleep is an irreplaceable foundation for a good day.
On a larger scale, a society that creates a healthy relationship with rest is laying the foundation for a better future. For those who want to build a future around compassion and community, repairing our culture’s relationship with rest is the beginning of the revolution.
If describing rest as a revolutionary act sounds odd to you, you’re not alone. In mainstream culture, most people place productivity and efficiency on a pedestal. Side hustles are de rigueur, burnout is a badge of honor and the “rise and grind” mentality is gospel.
For those of us trying to build a better world (or just survive in this one), constant action may seem like the only way to get ahead. Making time for regular naps is an unthinkable idea to those who have internalized the idea that constant hustling is the key to success. In grind culture mythology, taking time to rest and recharge is irresponsible or selfish.
But in real life, the most lasting damage happens when we don’t learn to rest.
Burnout is a medical condition with serious ramifications, despite its glamourization by grind culture devotees. If left unresolved, burnout leads to a host of mental and physical health problems, including mood disorders, headaches, fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, and increased risk of drug, alcohol, and food abuse.
Grind culture has paved the way for the rise of burnout: glorifying its symptoms while demonizing rest as lazy and self-indulgent. This mentality is a weight around the necks of activists, community organizers, educators, and care providers.
And the effects of the grind or hustle mentality are especially strong for marginalized groups: the allure of this brand of perfectionism is that it promises social mobility and security for anyone who works hard enough. In reality, it’s stealthily sabotaging the wellbeing of the most hardworking and idealistic members of our society.
So how do we build a new future without knocking ourselves down in the process?
Feminist author Audre Lorde has written about how self-care is an indispensible part of fighting oppression. While living with cancer and struggling with her impulse to overextend herself at the expense of her health, she wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Windy City native Tricia Hersey is another proponent of care as a subversive act.
To share the revolutionary potential of rest, she became the Nap Bishop. Her organization, The Nap Ministry, examines “the liberating power of rest” and “sleep deprivation as a racial and social-justice issue.”
During her undergraduate studies in public health, she became interested in looking at the human body and health issues in more holistic ways. While Hersey attended graduate school for theology, she began to focus this view on sleep and other forms of rest.
“When I first started thinking about this, I had started seminary. I was in divinity school… I’d be there by 6:00 in the morning, and then I wouldn’t come home until after midnight sometimes.”
Academic rigor would have been exhausting alone, but for Hersey, it was combined with caring for her then 6-year-old son, a robbery they experienced while trying to get home one night, and then the gaining momentum of the Black Lives Matter Movement.
“...I was a community organizer and justice leader. I was dealing with being pulled to the front lines with that while I was still in school… It was a lot of strife. And I was at a predominantly white institution where there weren’t that many people who looked like me there.”
The lack of social support magnified every other source of stress in Hersey’s life, and she knew she needed to find a way to care for herself.
“The stress of all that, combined with trying to go through a really intense, high-level graduate writing program, I just couldn’t take it...I started sleeping all over campus. I was everywhere…. That’s why I started thinking about collective napping and public napping.”
The Nap Ministry was founded in 2016, and in pre-Covid times, Hersey would hold monthly napping events in her current home base, Atlanta. She also held a series of pop-up events every July here in Chicago, her hometown.
Napping events are usually held at yoga studios, co-working spaces, libraries, art galleries, or outdoor spaces. Complete with pillows, blankets, yoga mats, and sometimes entire artistic installations, they are a safe and curated space to experience collective rest.
When participants wake up, they have the opportunity to discuss how the nap affected them. These discussions can bring up powerful emotions and some attendees end up crying during their testimony.
During the pandemic, Hersey has focused on virtual experiences to foster rest and connection. These “virtual rest experiences” include group meditation, poetry readings, and group discussions of texts from writers like bell hooks.
Hersey’s multiple academic backgrounds inform the practice of rest as revolution. After gaining an undergraduate degree in public health, she began graduate studies in theology. Throughout both these academic journeys, she weaved in poetry, performance art, history, Afrofuturism, and black liberation theology.
Her work with the Nap Ministry is the marriage of these passions, grounded equally in the science of rest and in her concept of spirituality. She sees the human body as a vessel for the divine. The physical is tied to the ephemeral, the individual to the collective, and the past to the future.
So, the Nap Ministry is about more than just naps. It exists to raise awareness of these connections and help others draw strength from them.
Connecting Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Self-Care
The Nap Ministry promotes the idea that caring for the physical body is also caring for the spirit. This process will look different for everyone because it’s intensely personal.
“I want to first uplift that I don’t think there’s any particular right or wrong way to deal with anything that’s going on right now. I always say, Take it easy on yourself. This is a slow deprogramming.”
For Hersey, part of this deprogramming is rethinking our attitudes toward self-care, and the things we prioritize when we try to take better care of ourselves.
“Self-care is important, but I’m really interested in soul care, which takes a deeper view of yourself as a human being worthy of self-care. The care comes from you, not from a massage therapist or getting your nails done.”
She wants to empower others to listen to their own bodies and minds, regardless of others’ definitions of self-care.
“There’s a stigma around caring for yourself. Unless it’s attached to capitalism, then it’s okay. You can pay $200 for a facial, and then you’re taking care of yourself. But if you’re caring for yourself with something as deep as sleep, which is one of our most ancient and primal needs, if you’re doing that in public, caring for your body, that’s shameful. I tie that back to capitalism and white supremacy and these notions around not seeing humans as divine and not seeing our bodies as belonging to us. When you start to deprogram around all the systems that have us at this point of sleep deprivation, where we don’t think we are worthy of sleep.”
“Part of this rest resistance is also reclaiming your imagination and reclaiming hope, reclaiming your intuition of knowing what’s right and knowing there’s always time for you to reclaim your body as yours.”
Part of her own journey to reclaim her intuition and body has been a broadening of the definition of rest.
“I want to reimagine rest to be a slowing down, a mindfulness, a paying attention. I believe taking moments of silence is a form of rest. Taking long baths. A longer shower. Prayer, meditation, daydreaming… And the time to rest is now, because it’s not a privilege; it is our right. It’s a human right.”
The compulsive need for constant productivity may be a damaging symptom of burnout culture, but Hersey also acknowledges that reframing rest as productive is immensely helpful as people are first learning to take better care of themselves.
“I’m trying to reframe rest and deprogram people around the concept that if you aren’t ‘doing something’ in the classic sense, that you’re not worthy.”
“I want to uplift that when you’re sleeping, you are actually doing something. You’re honoring your body. You are giving your brain a moment to download new information. You’re disrupting toxic systems by reclaiming rest.”
Recent advancements in the science of sleep affirm the idea of rest as productive. Scientists have discovered that the brain uses sleep to reboot, consolidate memories, and clear away the chemical waste products from the day’s cognitive processes.
Vikas Jain, a doctor of sleep medicine at Northwestern, echoes Hersey’s sentiments on the biological necessity of naps, recommending a 30-minute afternoon nap for anyone who gets less than 7 hours of sleep per night.
When asked about the Nap Ministry’s communal approach, Jain said, “The communal napping is a newer idea but I like the idea of trying to eliminate the stigma that surrounds sleep. People don’t want to come forward and let anyone know they are tired… and we are trying to cram so much into our day that we’re not taking care of ourselves.”
Connecting Individual and Community Wellness
The collective nature of The Nap Ministry emphasizes that a person learning to care for themselves isn’t a selfish act, especially for those who have always taken on the role of caretaker for others. As a veteran community organizer herself, Hersey understands the extra pressure a leadership role can provide.
“A lot of my work is with people who are community organizers and movement leaders. They are on the front lines. They’re working 80 hours a week. They are planning direct action. They really feel, How can I be resting right now when the people who are causing all of this oppression in our world are not resting? That’s a true and real thing we need to uplift before we can get to the point of giving someone a rest schedule and forcing them to follow it.”
Hersey feels that the stress of the pandemic is highlighting these long-standing issues of guilt and burnout, as well as the tension between individual and collective responsibility.
“People are seeing it in real life now- like, really deeply- because of the pandemic. But I’ve been seeing it since I started. I’m interested and I’m observing and seeing how this is really shining such a light on how deeply we are into this grind culture, how deeply we’ve been brainwashed, how deeply we’ve been socialized.”
“This has been transmuted into an internal struggle because when grind culture, a culture I’ve been wanting to see on its knees, is slowing down a little bit- we’re keeping it alive. We’re holding it up. We can’t stop and we can’t get off it. So it becomes this deep internal process and we see how much trauma is really around rest and sleep for Black people.”
According to the National Sleep Foundation, there are racially-based disparities in both the amount and quality of sleep that Americans get. 20% of the night’s rest should be spent in deep sleep, which is the most restorative phase of sleep. White Americans tend to hit that 20% mark. However, Black and Latinx Americans only average 15% deep sleep. Black Americans also reported the fewest hours of sleep on weekdays, and had more prevalent and severe cases of sleep apnea.
Insufficient, poor-quality sleep has short-term effects like difficulty consolidating new memories and disruptions in cognition, mood, and metabolism. Long-term, lack of sleep leads to cardiovascular problems, decreased immune function, and early death.
The Nap Ministry installations are designed to create a haven around resting, and help those who need rest the most. In these spaces, comfort and relaxation are not self-indulgence, they are self-preservation.
Connecting the Past, the Present, and the Future
The Nap Ministry’s definition of community also includes ancestors. Extending empathy to those who came before you and acknowledging the patterns of history both play a role in creating a better future.
Hersey is developing her own sets of coping strategies, but she’s building on the wisdom of her role models.
Hersey’s first experiences with the power of rest came from watching her own family’s coping mechanisms during childhood. Her grandmother was born in Mississippi, but moved the family to Chicago to protect herself and her brothers from the epidemic of lynchings carried out by white supremacists.
She needed to manage the stress of living in a society that wanted her dead, and recharge during her busy life as the matriarch of their large family. She always made time for naps and would also meditate for 30 minutes each day.
Through The Nap Ministry, Hersey can extend these pieces of family wisdom to all who need them. She believes that the blueprints for healing can be found in our biology and our histories.
“That fact that we are still here shows that there is also intergenerational wisdom. We forget to speak about that, how do we move past the trauma to see the wisdom?”
For Tricia Hersey, reclaiming the right to rest and health is only the first step.
“... it really is so important because rest disrupts and pushes back and allows space for healing, for invention, for us to be more human. It’ll allow us to imagine this new world that we want, this new world that’s liberated, that’s full of justice, that’s a foundation for us to really, truly live our lives.”
At Conquer Life, our goal is to build a community that celebrates those who work hard and follow their passion, to remind each of us that we have the power to do the same. To inspire, motivate, and empower.
Need more inspiration in your life? We’ve got you!
You can also subscribe to our RSS feed!
Image credit: Clarke Sanders