How to have the best-a siesta
Are the Spanish onto something? And not just with the paella and Fernando Torres. Jim Pollard, a keen savourer of the siesta, on what NASA can teach us about napping.
Winston Churchill did it most days. So did JFK and Albert Einstein. We're talking about napping.
Research frequently shows that short naps can improve alertness and effectiveness.
Mark Rosekind, the former leader of the NASA Fatigue Counter-measures Program, told WebMD: 'When I was at NASA we gave the pilots a planned nap in the cockpit. While two pilots flew the plane, the third would have 40 minutes to nap.
'We found they would sleep for 26 minutes, which boosted their performance by 34% and their alertness by 54%.' Rosekind, below right, reckons that the beneficial effects of a short nap last for two to three hours.
Naps needn't be long.
Even a five-minute nap could improve memory.
Students in Dusseldorf were asked to memorise a list of words and then recall them after an hour of playing the card game solitaire. The students who were allowed a five-minute catnap remembered significantly more words than those who were constantly awake.
Naps are good for you. A long-term study of over 20,000 people living in Greece carried out by Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Athens Medical School and found that those who regularly took siestas (defined as napping at least three times per week for an average of 30 minutes) were 37% less likely to die from heart disease than those not taking siestas. The apparent protective effect of siestas was strongest among working men and weaker among working women and those not working.
I suppose you might argue that you need control of your own time to have a nap so that all this proves is that people who have better control of their time live longer — no surprise, there. But personally, I think there's something more to it than that.
At this point some readers will be closing their browsers. If lunch is for wimps in the modern working world then who the hell is napping for? Seriously sad career casualties. Except some smart employers, notably in the good old USA, are recognising the benefits of their employees getting some Zzzs.
The US's National Sleep Foundation estimates over tired employees cost businesses $18 billion a year.
From Deloitte Consulting to Union Pacific Railway, Nike to British Airways, sleep is the new awake. Google apparently even provide special napping rooms.
Mr Google no doubt read the research cited in a great little paper I read earlier this year called A Case For Naps In The Workplace. (I don't know but unless it was a very big case, I think I'd prefer a bed.) A Harvard study found that an hour-long nap at work resulted in computer programmers writing better code. The researchers suggested that the brain uses sleep to restore overused brain circuits and consolidate the memories of action and skills learned during the day.
I don't have a nap every day, far from it, but I do sometimes and it usually helps. The key word here is usually.
For me, anything longer than 20 minutes normally means I wake up feeling groggy — that desperate for a gallon caffiene feeling you get when you have to get up early and have spent all night in a state of half-sleep, half-panic waiting for the alarm.
No, unless you're very tired (a new parent, a tri-athlete or a banker exhausted from carrying home his latest nationalised bonus, perhaps), you don't need any more than 20 minutes.
Too long a nap and as well as feeling rough when you first emerge you're running the risk of insomnia later too.
You can set an alarm if you're worried about sleeping too long but I don't find it necessary. Turn the phone off and lie down properly — the couch, unless it's long enough to lie flat out on, is best avoided. But if you lie on the bed, don't go under the covers. Don't draw the curtains either although a slightly darkened room is good. Ideally the temperature should be a degree or so lower than you're working room (as indeed your bedroom should be at night).
Lie on your back, relax your body and be aware of your breathing — napping is a little like meditation in this respect — and go with the flow.
Don't focus on any particular thought. I find that having talk radio on in the background helps this. You might prefer music. The result is you should drift in and out of a light sleep. You may even hear yourself snore.
This works well for revitalising tired drivers too — just make sure you pull over and turn off the engine before trying it.
You'll need to experiment to find the best nap length for you but the importance of keeping nap sleep light is why 20 minutes is the max for most people — after 25 minutes you tend to start drifting into a deeper sleep and that's to be avoided if you want to get anything done afterwards. (If you do want a longer nap, go for two hours as that will ensure you go through a whole sleep cycle.)
Irregular napping can disrupt your circadian rhythms (your body's natural 24-hour cycle) so try to keep a pattern even if you only nap a couple of times a week.
I work at home so it's relatively easy for me to have a nap when I want. It can be difficult at the office but even if you have an active, outdoor job it's not impossible. Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov manages a kip for 90 minutes or so most Saturday afternoons. The bigger problem at work is often sceptical, cynical (and jealous) colleagues.
So how do you persuade the boss? Point out that innovative, cutting edge corporations need sharp, creative employees not half-asleep zombies. Even if your boss thinks innovation were an 80's dance band, this could work since no firm likes to admit they're about as cutting edge as a blunt razor.
If you enjoy a nap and can find the time and place to do it, it is one of the most efficient uses of 30 minutes around. (No sniggering at the back.)
It is probably the reason why so many 50-60 years olds working at home are more productive than many 25 year olds working in the office.
Mark Rosekind concludes: 'when you are sleepy, getting any sleep is a good thing. Generally, getting more sleep is better than less, and less is better than none.'
Napping is no substitute for proper kip at the proper time. If you're not sleeping properly at night, try to get that right rather than compensating for it with cat-naps. If your core sleep isn't working for you, it's unlikely a nap will. There's more on sleep problems here on malehealth.
Tell us your quick kip tips.
Page created on August 1st, 2009
Page updated on December 1st, 2009