We're Crazy, Not the South Americans

W. Gifford-Jones, M.D.

PureInsight | September 9, 2006

[The Epoch Times]  Have
you ever had the desire to cry out, "I'm tired and I don't give a
tinkers's dam what the boss thinks. I'm closing the door and taking a
nap." In our North American society, what we want to do, and can do,
without getting fired, are two different things. But is it time for
employers to agree that South Americans are not crazy for shutting
their doors and having an afternoon siesta?

Dr. Scott Campbell, a sleep expert at Weill Medical College, in White
Plains N.Y., says "napping is a healthy habit if your schedule permits
it. I don't see why you would try to overcome what your body is trying
to tell you." I'd agree, but it's safer if the boss is on holiday.

It's the old story that if you don't use it, you lose it. In this case,
if you don't snooze, you lose. There's scientific evidence that napping
has benefits.

Sleep experts say that our internal clock is programmed to make us
sleep twice every 24 hours. The first need for slumber occurs between
midnight and 7 a.m. Then the eyelids start to droop again between 1
p.m. and 3 p.m. This biological readiness to sleep in the mid-afternoon
also coincides with a slight drop in body temperature. Moreover, this
decrease in body temperature occurs whether we eat or not and even in
those who are well-rested.

The majority of studies show that even a nap of 15 minutes can increase
mental and physical performance as well as mood for the remainder of
the afternoon. This is true regardless of age.

Dr. Campbell reports that a study of 32 men and women between the ages
of 55 to 85 found that older people scored higher on tests of cognitive
ability and reaction time after napping.

Campbell adds that it's a myth that an afternoon nap interferes with
nighttime sleep. It may take a few more minutes to fall asleep at night
after napping, but people sleep just as long and deeply as on no-nap
days. Moreover, their actual sleep time increased by one hour on
napping days.

North Americans and employers should realize that napping is a part of
our lives right from birth. Moreover, if it's good for healthy
toddlers, surely a short siesta is even more urgent for those of us
with gray hair.

Napping may also be part of an evolutionary, geographical mechanism
that evolved in certain cultures, particularly those close to the
equator. I'm sure that in South America it didn't take too long for our
evolutionary genes to conclude it's prudent to get out of the
blistering noonday sun. As Joseph Conrad wrote, "Only mad dogs and
Englishmen go out in the noonday sun."

Suppose you're one of the lucky ones who can afford to take a nap
without getting fired. Sliding under the desk is not a good idea.
Rather, choose a peaceful spot, dim the lights and draw the drapes. Set
the alarm if you're concerned about oversleeping. And don't nap longer
than 20 to 25 minutes. You may enter a deep sleep after 30 minutes
making it more difficult to get back to functioning well. As in most
things, moderation in napping is the key.

If you can't nap and need energy, avoid sugary treats that provide only
a short temporary lift. Rather, select protein and complex
carbohydrates such as cheese and whole-wheat crackers. And go easy on
caffeinated drinks that can result in dependency.

I was delighted to learn of this research. I'm an early morning writer,
usually at my computer by 7 a.m. But as sure as night follows day,
after lunch I start to yawn at every other word. When my eyelids start
to close, I know it's fruitless to continue. But after a short nap, I'm
back to writing something intelligent. That, of course, may be a
debatable point!

I admit it would be easier to sell ice to Eskimos than sell an
afternoon nap to employers. But since they're always preaching the need
for increased productivity, they might find a little snooze time
improves their bottom line.

Dr. Gifford-Jones is a medical journalist with a private medical practice in Toronto.

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