Making the case for having a nap in the middle of the day

“Lay down for at least 15 minutes every day after lunch,” our family doctor advised Dad when he was diagnosed with an ulcer and still recovering from a back injury.

The doctor advised laying on the floor to help my dad’s back but the midday rest would benefit both conditions.

The idea of a rest in the middle of every day was as foreign to Dad’s thinking as flying to the moon in a hot air balloon, but he tried to follow the doctor’s orders as much as possible.

He never complained about having to lay down during a busy season and he never mentioned having trouble sleeping at night. Of course, he kept a schedule of early mornings and late evenings, so a midday nap was probably a very good thing.

More was involved in his healing than a simple nap, but he seemed to think he was better for it overall. He lived to age 82 and never had an ulcer or back problems again.

The National Sleep Foundation reports a study of NASA pilots and astronauts who showed an increase in performance by 34 percent and alertness by 100 percent after a 40-minute nap.

Operating machinery when sleep-deprived can be as dangerous as when under the influence.

The choice of whether or not to nap and how long depends on lifestyle and an individual’s need for sleep. Research on napping has determined the following about length of time to sleep:

  • Ten to 20 minutes: ideal for a boost in alertness and energy; limiting the lighter stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) so it’s easier to wake up.
  • Thirty minutes: may cause grogginess after waking up but this will leave sometime before the benefits of the nap appear.
  • Sixty minutes: the best for improvement in recalling facts, faces and names but will cause grogginess for a period after waking up.
  • Ninety minutes: gives a full cycle including the lighter and deeper stages and avoids sleep inertia for an easier time waking up; it gives improved emotional function and procedural memory.

If you’re afraid of snoozing so long that your nighttime sleep will be disrupted, use an alarm to control the length of your nap.

I’m sure there were many times when Dad couldn’t fall asleep during his nap, but he believed a rest was just as good. Experts recommend that relaxation should be your goal, not sleep. Relaxation can still help rejuvenate your body.

The well-known veterinarian-author, James Herriot, remained sitting in his chair at the table after lunch with arms folded and eyes closed for a few minutes before going back to work in the clinic.

Napping is more accepted in Europe than North America. Some European businesses shut down in the middle of the day to allow their employees to nap.

In North America, the stigma against napping suggests that those who nap are lazy or that naps are only needed by children, the sick or elderly. Slightly more than one-third of adults in the United States say they take a nap on a typical day.

An article in USA Today states: “Most people know when they don’t get enough sleep. They’re grumpier, have trouble concentrating and may even eat more. But too little shut-eye does more than affect your mood. It can wreak havoc on your health, research shows.

“Sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of many serious health problems, including obesity, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, depression, heart attacks and strokes, as well as premature death and reduced quality of life and productivity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Add to those an increased risk of automobile crashes, industrial disasters and medical and other occupational errors.”

Famous nappers from around the world include Sir Winston Churchill, Lyndon B. Johnson, Napoleon Bonaparte, John F. Kennedy, Thomas Edison, and Ronald Reagan.

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