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Monday, July 26, 2010

The delicious nap

When I was a kid, my mother always made us take an afternoon nap.

I hated it. Really, really HATED it. It seemed like such a gross waste of time.

When I became a mother, I began to understand wisdom inherent in a nap.

In recent years, I don't consider that I've really had a day off unless I've had an afternoon nap.

Sunday afternoons - after church and pastoral calls - there's nothing like falling asleep with a cooking show on the television, with the volume set to low, and the New York Times magazine section opened on my lap, while I drift off into a short, delicious sojourn into the Land of Nod.

Delicious is the key word here.

There's a certain ritual to the afternoon nap - certain criteria that must be followed - that make it 'delicious'.

First, the things that aren't allowed:

It can't be in the afternoon, after a long night in the emergency room or at a hospice bedside and before an evening meeting. That's not a nap. That's survival.

Every now and again, on a day off, I finish my second cup of coffee and feel a cosmic punch to my sleep center and crawl my way back into bed for a coupl more hours of sleep. I know scientists say that you can't 'make up lost sleep'. My grandmother would say, "You must have needed the sleep." I think my grandmother was right. That is not a nap. That's exhaustion.

It can't be in the afternoon in my PJs with all the blinds and curtains shut tight. That's not a nap. That's a migraine.

On my day off, it must be in the late morning or toward the end of the afternoon. The curtains must be open. I must be fully dressed. I must "look" like I'm doing something else (I don't know or really care who might be watching, but it's an important part of the ritual) - reading, watching TV, writing, doing my needlework.

And then, "Oops!" It's all of a sudden forty-five or sixty minutes later when I open my eyes and always, always, always (this is an important part), I feel surprised that I've napped off.

I sometimes apologize to Ms. Conroy, although she and I know I don't really mean it.  Indeed, we both giggle wickedly when that happens, especially if she's joined me in the snooze.

On Sunday afternoon, if there's been a diocesan something scheduled in the afternoon - after two services, an adult forum, coffee hour (wherein someone from the Vestry and/or church committee snags me to do business and then later complains that I never talk to the visitors during Coffee Hour), and pastoral calls/hospital visits - that I've elected not to attend (I mean, really? What are they thinking?), the nap feels even more delicious.

Not only have I "stolen time" for myself, I also have the deep satisfaction of a sense of the minor rebellion I remember from my adolescence.

You wouldn't know it to see me on Sundays or in most social situations, but I really am an introvert. The last time I took one of those Myers-Briggs thingies, I was an I/E NF P/J - with a stronger tendency toward the "I" and "P".  I am clearly a strong NF, and I can "pull" from the shadow of my "E" self, but it takes more energy.

I need a nap, see?

If given the choice of going to a dinner party or staying home to work on my sermon, I'm home. No question. Depending, of course, on who's at the party and why. If it's a 'church' occasion, to me, it's all work anyway, and I'd rather spend that time in the company of the Holy Spirit and Jesus, with God looking over my shoulder. That's about as much company as I can stand, anyway, after a full day's work.

Actually, there's lots of research that indicates that more of us take naps than one would think or even imagine.

According to the PEW Research Center, which was reported in July, 2009,
"Napping thrives among all demographic groups, but it's more widespread among some than others, according to a Pew Research Center Social & Demographic Trends survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,488 adults."
They also note:
"More men than women report that they caught a little snooze in the past 24 hours -- 38% vs. 31%. This gender gap occurs almost entirely among older adults. More than four-in-ten ( 41%) men ages 50 and older say they napped in the past day, compared with just 28% of women of the same age. Below the age of 50 men and women are about equally likely to say they napped in the past day (35% vs. 34%)."
The survey also asked respondents if they had trouble sleeping in the past 24 hours -- and, not surprisingly, it finds a correlation between nap-taking and trouble sleeping.

You can find the full report at

It's important to note that the question did not specify what is meant by a nap. Presumably for some respondents it might mean dozing off for just a few minutes while for others it might mean a more prolonged sleep.

To each his own, but I find anything less than 45 minutes not satisfying. And, anything that comes close to two hours - except is very rare circumstances - is just an overindulgence.

Or, a warning sign.

Turns out, we all benefit from a short nap in the middle of the day.  Science Daily reports that,
"A ninety minute daytime nap helps speed up the process of long term memory consolidation, a recent study conducted by Prof. Avi Karni and Dr. Maria Korman of the Center for Brain and Behavior Research at the University of Haifa found. "We still don't know the exact mechanism of the memory process that occurs during sleep, but the results of this research suggest the possibility that it is possible to speed up memory consolidation, and in the future, we may be able to do it artificially," said Prof. Karni."
The Boston Globe recently reported that midday naps can also save your life.
In a study released yesterday, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and in Athens reported that Greeks who took regular 30-minute siestas were 37 percent less likely to die of heart disease over a six-year period than those who never napped. The scientists tracked more than 23,000 adults, finding that the benefits of napping were most pronounced for working men.
Not only that, a recent study by The National Institute of Mental Health indicates that we should all stop feeling guilty about that "power nap" some of us take at the office during the day, as it prevents burnout and perfects our skill sets.
Evidence is mounting that sleep—even a nap—appears to enhance information processing and learning. New experiments by NIMH grantee Alan Hobson, M.D., Robert Stickgold, Ph.D., and colleagues at Harvard University show that a midday snooze reverses information overload and that a 20 percent overnight improvement in learning a motor skill is largely traceable to a late stage of sleep that some early risers might be missing. Overall, their studies suggest that the brain uses a night's sleep to consolidate the memories of habits, actions and skills learned during the day.
Well, that's all well and good but, for me, a wee bit of guilt is what makes a nap so delicious.

I don't nap every day. Couldn't, I don't think. That feels way too self-indulgent. A "delicious" nap has to feel different. Stolen. A special treat.

Otherwise, it's just survival.

How boring! Just thinking about it makes me sleepy.

It's probably just a wee bit of rebellion left over from the days of my mother's "enforced" naps.

Oh, I no longer speak disparagingly of the taking of naps. Indeed, I sing its praises. It's just that, for me, it must be something one does while otherwise looking like one is doing something . . . important. . . .

. . . productive. . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . .busyyyyy . . . .

. . . .ZZZZZZZZ . . . . ..

Oh, I'm sorry.

Must have nodded off there for just a wee bit.

(Giggles wickedly and clicks on "publish post")


IT said...

I find myself nodding off at the beginning of my homeward commute. Just till the first station after I get on. Then I'm able to refocus on the work in front of me for the rest of the way.

All in favor of naps!

motheramelia said...

Sunday afternoon naps are the best. Especially on dark winter afternoons and after (or during) drinking a nice cup of tea.

Fr Craig said...

I've been taking a nap around lunchtime for nearly 20 years... rarely sleep - I call it 'deep doze' now it's part of my 'body clock' and about 12:30, I start to crash! I'm INFP myself, but have trained my E side to work, and it's exhausting. After church on Sundays, I'm just dead...