Sofagirl and I shared a boss, at different stages of our careers, who, shortly after lunch, would close the door to his office, lie down on his cream coloured leather sofa and, come hell or high water, would take a nap. His assistant would block all calls and visitors, and would knock on his door when 20 minutes were up. I always thought the practice rather weird and prided myself in never having needed a nap in my life.
Years later, when working as a chef, I would notice my energy starting to fade in the early afternoon, even if I had been careful not to load myself with carbs and sugar for lunch. My immediate reaction was to walk over to the espresso machine and gulp down some caffeine before returning to my duties.
Since working from home, it happens more frequently that, while sitting at my laptop in the afternoon, my concentration takes a nosedive and my body begs me to lie down. At first, I resisted the temptation and opted for either caffeine or a walk with the dogs instead but, one day, I decided to see what would happen if I closed my eyes on the couch….just for a little while.
The napping ritual was fairly typical amongst my parents’ generation. I grew up in a mid-size Italian city where most fathers would take their lunches at home. Depending on what time they were expected back at work, some would enjoy an espresso and then take a nap; most mothers did that too. I remember having to tiptoe around the house after lunch, so not to wake them up – I dedicated that quiet time to sitting around and reading a book, escaping in my own private world before getting down to homework. These days, such practice seems quaint and anachronistic but it was retrieved from my memory banks when experimenting with the possibility of napping.
I rested on the couch and quickly slipped into a light sleep: twenty minutes later I woke up organically, wide awake and definitely more alert and ready to resume work. Could it be our former boss was on to something? I had heard of studies touting the benefits of napping and of many work places where naps are not only tolerated, but even encouraged; still I went digging for myself.
Before the invention of electricity, humans enjoyed significantly different sleeping patterns they do now. Most people would go to sleep in the early evening and wake up in the wee hours, around 1 or 2, and would read or make love until they were ready to sleep again. Apparently, that is the circadian rhythm of our bodies. Over time, we have learnt to concentrate our sleep in one long slumber but, scientifically, our system would rather have two periods of intense sleep between 2 and 4 am and 1 and 3 pm. (livescience). It turns out that the midday meal has nothing much to do with our tiredness.
Even more surprising, if it’s a quick nap we are after, ingesting some caffeine before going to sleep will make us even more alert when we wake up, as caffeine takes about 20 minutes to jolt our nervous system.
Jennifer Ackerman, of the Guardian newspaper, reported a few years ago that separate studies conducted by NASA and Harvard University confirmed that napping for only 20 minutes helped with improved alertness, concentration and elevated the overall mood. If we were willing to take this even further, a 90 minute shut-eye would improve our memory and learning process – but that, in my book, still looks like frittering the whole afternoon away.
Depending on how my day is structured, I don’t feel the need to nap every single day but, with all this information on hand and no downside effects I could find, I am now giving myself (and you) permission to nap away when my body is asking for it. Just for a minute.
Images found in the public domain