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Mid-Day Snoozes

Day-time naps may lead to more productive, happier and healthier lives, according to this excerpt from chapter seven of "Time Out: Naps, Siestas and Kips."

Thursday, February 1, 2007
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They call them siestas in Spanish and kips in England. Whatever you call the mid-day snooze, napping has been controversial from a scientific standpoint for quite some time. Some books (and their authors) will tell you to avoid naps entirely during the day or risk another sleepless night. Others contend naps -- when timed properly -- will enhance your alertness in the afternoon, increase your ability to concentrate, and assist you in achieving sound sleep at night.

There is no iron-clad answer to the napping question except to say people respond as differently to naps as they do to the number of hours slept. I do, however, think that more people could benefit from experimenting with naps and making time for them.

Naps have been gaining popularity (and acceptance in the workplace) ever so slowly. In fact, in 2004, the first MetroNaps facility opened in New York City's Empire State Building, which offers uniquely designed "Pods" for sneaking in a power nap during the day. (Funny how the term power nap has replaced cat nap, as that's a more acceptable phrase.) The Pods, which look like something out of a James Bond movie, block sound and light and offer perfect micro-environment for various lengths of naps.

Similar to gyms and spas, these MetroNaps facilities offer passes you can use for frequent visits. Another such MetroNaps facility can be found in Vancouver's International Airport, where travelers can catch a snooze before or in between flights. It will be interesting to see just how far this idea can go, and if someday we'll see such sleeping Pods filling a room at a company's headquarters or located in a store on a corner next to a Starbucks.

Imagine a day when taking a nap is as trendy as taking a coffee break or going out to lunch. Some companies do have designated napping areas that aren't quite as fancy as a place like MetroNaps, but they do offer rooms with comfortable recliners, soft lighting, music, and an overall soothing atmosphere.

How Long is the Perfect Nap?

The 20-minute power nap has been talked about for years, but napping doesn't have to be so confined. You can gain a lot of benefits from as little as five minutes, and as much as two or more hours (but, please, no more than three). As mentioned earlier, if you can achieve a full cycle of sleep through slow-wave, or deep sleep, you stand to gain the most out of a mid-day snooze.

If you've tried to nap in the past and you've awakened groggy and feeling worse off than beforehand, this is most likely because you haven't timed it right and you've awakened in the middle of that slow-wave sleep stage.

During this stage, your brain's activity is polar opposite to how it functions while you're awake. At this stage, you've completely tuned out the external world and your entire brain rhythm synchronizes into a slow, uniform pattern instead of multitasking and operating on many frequencies.

If you suddenly come out of slow-wave sleep, you force your brain to desynchronize and fire off high-frequency electrical activity. Until your brain catches up to the fact you're actually awake, you'll feel slow, sleepy, and probably cranky, too. Your limbs will feel like heavyweights, your eyes won't focus well, you'll havea hard time sounding articulate, and your mind will feel left behind. A quick way to slap your brain into wakeful shape is to do something physical, listen to stimulating music, or splash cold water on your face.

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The Cons

Although everyone is capable of napping, it's not going to be the magic bullet for conquering sleepiness during the day ... for everyone. This is why you have to be your own sleep therapist and experiment with a few types of naps.

Napping is nearly impossible for a lot of people today, for many reasons, not the least of which include work commitments, no access to a suitable place to nap at the right time, and the typical stimulants running through the bloodstream during the day. For example, if the perfect time for you to nap is, say, one in the afternoon but you've just downed a grande latte and a Snickers bar (on top of three diet sodas in the morning), all that sugar and caffeine is going to work against you when you try to settle into a nap.

Be patient with yourself as you learn how to nap and time your naps according to you body's needs. Napping is not a sign of being unmotivated or lazy. Quite the contrary, people who can nap successfully often lead more productive, healthier, and happier lives. They are less prone to errors at work, on the road and in everyday activities.

This excerpt from Good Night: The Sleep Doctor's Four-Week Program to Better Sleep and Better Health is published by arrangement with Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © September 2006.

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