Cat nap is an idiom used to describe a very brief period of sleep, which usually occurs during normal waking hours. Similar to another idiomatic expression known as a power nap, this is a short sleep meant to revive or rejuvenate a tired person. The length of time for an individual cat nap may vary, but may range from a few minutes to approximately one hour. Although a daytime nap may last for a longer period, a prolonged sleep break is usually referred to simply as a nap.
Like many other English sayings, the etymology of the cat nap idiom is simple. In the early 1800s, people began using this term to describe human naps that are similar in form to the short sleep periods that cats often engage in. While most cats sleep several hours per day, they are also known for sometimes doing so in very short intervals. It is not uncommon for the meaning of idioms like this to be traced to similarly simple origins.
When some people engage in a cat nap, sleep may be very light. These particular naps are so short that some may take them while sitting upright at a desk or may doze off for a few short minutes while watching television. Sometimes taking a quick nap is intentional, while other people may unintentionally fall asleep.
Increasingly, health experts recommend that people take a daily cat nap as a way of restoring energy and increasing work productivity. The famous British politician Winston Churchill has been quoted as being an advocate of daily naps for precisely this reason. Other esteemed individuals noted for taking daytime naps include Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Athletes are also known to relish a cat nap as a way to prepare for an upcoming competition. It is believed that such naps, also referred to as power naps, help increase a person’s mental focus and alertness.
In some countries, it is understood that employees benefit from an afternoon cat nap and special accommodations are made for nap times, such as quiet rooms with comfortable chairs or sofas designated for resting. Scientists specializing in sleep research have published numerous studies on how the brain benefits from a brief daily nap. In addition to increased mental alertness, employees who are allowed to partake of a daily cat nap also report positive mood changes and decreased stress levels.