America’s Most Famous Neurosurgeon Thinks You Should Take a Nap

From a Wall Street Journal story by Lane Florsheim headlined “America’s Most Famous Neurosurgeon Thinks You Should Take a Nap”:

Years ago, Dr. Sanjay Gupta spent a week keeping a detailed journal of everything he did in a day. Then he reviewed his findings. Mornings were the best time for him to write. Eating pickles gave him bursts of inspiration. “I don’t know what it is,” said Gupta, 54, a neurosurgeon and CNN’s chief medical correspondent. “Something about the way it interacts with my microbiome, perhaps.”

Gupta, who’s become a guide on how to live a better life, recommends the exercise to anyone looking to improve their focus and productivity. “You keep that journal for a week or two, and all of a sudden you’re going to have a map of your own life,” he said.

In addition to his frequent TV appearances, Gupta hosts the CNN podcast “Chasing Life.” Its current season, which debuted last month, explores the human brain. Previous seasons took on aging, screen time and the five senses.

Gupta lives in Atlanta. He and his wife, Rebecca Olson Gupta, have three teenage daughters. Here, he discusses why he thinks multitasking is a myth and the reason he never wears his wedding ring on Mondays.

What time do you get up on Mondays, and what’s the first thing you do after waking up?

I wake up very early on Monday mornings, usually around 5 a.m. I don’t look at artificial light when I wake up. I actually go outside for a little bit and just absorb the early daylight. I drink a single cup of coffee. I didn’t drink coffee until about three or four years ago.

How does the workday begin for you?

I do a call around 6 a.m. with my residents. I operate every Monday, so [it’s] to see if anything has changed in the eight hours or so since I spoke to them last. After that, I take a shower. I wear scrubs on Monday. I leave my wedding ring behind because I’ve had a couple of instances where I forgot it in scrub pants or something like that. It always makes my wife laugh.

Do you eat breakfast before heading to the hospital?

I don’t eat a big breakfast before operating. Sometimes the operations can go a long time, and I want to make sure that I can stay there without having to go to the bathroom.

This season of your podcast is about the human brain, and the first episode is about our diminishing attention spans. In a time of endless screens and distractions, how do you stay focused?

I grew up at a time where multitasking was seen as a metric of success. You could do several things at once: watch a basketball game, do a crossword puzzle, eat dinner. You were saving time. And that clearly is not the case. I’ve come to the conclusion that the idea of multitasking is a bit of a myth from a neuroscience standpoint.

I take a lot of joy out of just really focusing on things. Being a surgeon reinforces that. I make a habit of trying to incorporate that into the rest of my life, putting my phone away for periods of time, certainly during meals.

An early episode of the new season is about napping. Should we all be taking regular naps?

I love objective data. Researchers make the case that people who nap regularly and had a specific length of nap had increased brain volume versus those who did not nap regularly. And this was regardless of how much you slept at night. Now, we don’t know what that increased brain volume really means tangibly. The best benefit of taking a nap is that, for a period of time, you’re not stressed the same way that you are most of the rest of the day. Stress in and of itself is not a problem—it’s the relentless nature of stress. Naps, as it turns out, are a really good way to get a reliable break.

We all know therapy is great, but it remains prohibitively expensive for most. What do you think of therapy apps, which are more accessible?

I’m a fan of many of those apps. Like anything else, there’s good ones and there’s bad ones. You need to do your homework. Even now, I think there’s a lot of stigma around people actually seeking out care [even though] people are doing it more regularly than in the past. So the apps and the ability to get help in the privacy of your own home I think is really helpful.

The last season of the podcast was about aging. How did your attitude toward growing older change as you recorded it?

There was a perception I had of having this really predictable increase in aches and pains, poor sleep, more depressed mood. When you start to talk to people, you realize that there are no rules, that anything is possible. My mom [who is in her 80s] said, “Look, I probably have never been happier in my life. I bound out of bed every morning. I have tons of energy. I’m always in a great mood.”

What have you been reading and watching lately?

For this season of the podcast, [I interview] one of my literary heroes, Stephen King—I’ve been reading him since I was a kid. I just finished [his book] “Holly.”

What’s one piece of advice you’ve gotten that’s guided you?

This is advice my mom gave me pretty early on in life: Do something that scares you every day. You have the option to shy away from things that are slightly frightening or to basically look at it as an incredible workout for your psyche. My mom was a refugee for the first 12 years of her life. She really embodies it.


  1. Yolanda Miranda says

    Dr. Gupta,I developed tinnitus and it has changed my life for the worst . It has affected my cognitive thinking and All the specialist say there no cure please tell me if that is true and if it can be cured

Speak Your Mind