I’ve mentioned Churchill’s naps (and the napping habits of leaders, and people who want to be leaders) in several posts, but his history of napping is worth a post.

Churchill got into the habit of napping when he was First Lord of the Admiralty during World War I. His military counterpart, the elderly First Sea Lord John Fisher, was up and working between four and five in the morning, and by the afternoon “the formidable energy of the morning gradually declined, and with the shades of night the old Admiral’s giant strength was often visibly exhausted.” Churchill admired and was fascinated by Fisher, though their relationship was often difficult: both men regarded themselves as strategic geniuses, and their dynamic illustrated “one of Churchill’s strengths,” as Oxford historian Roy Jenkins put it: “although he wanted to dominate those around him, he wanted to do it over first- and not second-rate people.”

But it’s revealing that whatever their conflicts, Churchill recalled that he “altered my [daily] routine somewhat to fit in with that of the First Sea Lord.” Previously he had gotten up at seven in the morning; he now pushed that back to eight, “and I slept again, if possible, for an hour after luncheon.” Churchill found that long nap after lunch had the effect of allowing him “to work continuously till one or two in the morning without feeling in any way fatigued,” and he and Fisher now “constituted an almost unsleeping watch throughout the day and night.”

Even after resigning as First Lord after the Gallipoli disaster in 1915, and during his “years in the wilderness” in the 1930s when he was excluded from public service, Churchill kept up the habit of napping. Churchill didn’t just take a snooze at his desk. He retired to his private room, undressed and crawled into his single bed. After an hour or two, he arose.

During the war, Churchill had a room in the War Rooms set aside to sleep if they were under attack. If not, he headed to Number 10 Downing Street for a bath, and changed into fresh clothes. This may seem fussy, but his valet Frank Sawyers observed,

The effect of this complete break is usually to make two working days out of one– and he literally does twice the amount of work of the average person and exerts himself for twice the length of the conventional eight-hour day. [As a result…] It was one of the inflexible rules of Mr. Churchill’s daily routine that he should not miss this rest.

So inflexible was this rule that, as his valet recalled, “there was always a bed provided for him in the Houses of Parliament” where he would “get his sleep in before an important debate.”

During the war, Churchill went to great lengths to sleep comfortably when he was traveling. His plane was equipped with a custom-built pressure chamber with a shelf for books and brandy, a telephone, and its own air circulation system to remove cigar smoke. It allowed him to “loll comfortably like an outsized pearl within a gigantic oyster shell,” and gave him the extra oxygen his doctors insisted he have at high altitudes.