Everybody knows about the importance and health benefits of getting a regular good night’s sleep. It is inculcated into all of us from an early age. We all endure countless lullabies on the subject; ‘Sleep pretty baby, do not cry …….’ Pithy sayings from grandmothers; ‘Early to bed, early to rise makes you healthy, wealthy and wise’, or ‘The hours before midnight are worth two after’. Mantra’s from teachers; ‘8 hours work, 8 hours play, 8 hours sleep’. And mountains of facts and data all backed up by scientific research, health professionals, psychiatrists, The Readers Digest, psychologists, sleep therapists, mattress manufacturers – and parents (no matter that you left home 25 years ago). And even if, just supposing, you have managed to get this far in life without learning how vital good sleep is to good health – you most certainly would know by now how adept and clever armies around the world have become at administering torture through sleep deprivation. Which should tell you something.

 

So yeah. We all know we need a good 6 – 8 hours’ sleep per night to function at our best. We know there are things we can do to facilitate that – comfortable mattress, just right pillow and quilt, dark quiet room, camomile tea, regular bed time, good diet, not too much alcohol, exercise, temperature, sleeping pills, blah blah. WE ALL KNOW ABOUT SLEEP.

 

 

But I reckon, especially in Australia, most of us are caught severely napping when it comes to NAPPING. There is a lot going on here:

 

1. Most Australians don’t even know what a nap is. They think it is just a short sleep. Wrong.

2. Most people don’t know that a nap in the arvo is very good for you. Even if you sleep well at night.

3. Most people don’t know how to nap. Napping is an ART!

The trouble starts way back from near the beginning, as soon as we stop being infants and start sleeping through the night. For a while our bodies still need a few hours’ kip during the day, but quite quickly the daytime sleep reduces in duration as we sleep longer at night – and generally this is encouraged by parents overjoyed at being able to get back to their own night-time uninterrupted sleep regime. Very soon, starting as young as 3 years old, most little kids don’t want to sleep at all during the day. They want to be in the action, doing things, playing, playing, playing. And the more they exhaust themselves, the better they tend to sleep at night. Happy days for everybody.

 

In some parts of the world, most notably Spain, Portugal and Mexico, it is at this point parents teach their offspring the art of napping. They do it, because in those cultures they understand the great benefits to be derived from their daily siesta, an afternoon rest or nap commonly taken during the hottest hours of the day. By everybody – not just children. Work stops, businesses, shops and schools close. Everybody has a lie down. A nap is much more a rest than a sleep. It may include a light sleep for a short period of time, but the benefit comes from REST. From complete and total relaxation.

 

The world is becoming more and more 24/7 universally, but still today in those cultures, as best they can they make TIME for a daily nap because the benefits to health are well understood. Being totally relaxed or even lightly sleeping for 20 minutes improves alertness 100%. Productivity improves in leaps and bounds. It makes you feel less tired, reduces mistakes and improves performance. There are all sorts of other claims made like improving memory and physical health – but suffice to say a nice little nap is a pleasant luxury that makes you feel good. As opposed to a full blown afternoon sleep that will leave you with a bad case of sleep inertia – feeling groggy and disorientated, not to mention the fact that it is bound to interfere with your night-time sleep.

 

In Australia, many parents encourage young children to have a ‘quiet time’ for an hour or so after lunch, which is a good thing, but it is not a regimented, routine experience shared by the whole family in the same way as the Spanish siesta and as children develop and get older the practise is discarded and forgotten about. Pretty much for ever after in our go-go world in which everybody is busy and time poor. Very few adult Australians believe there is any benefit whatsoever in having a regular, routine ‘nap’ during the day, even if they had the inclination, time and facility to do so. To many, having an afternoon sleep is simply thought of as a lazy indulgence.

 

So for many, sleeping during the day is simply an attempt to ‘catch up’ on sleep deprived at night, often after a big night on the town. Or simply because of insomnia or sleep apnoea type medical problems. The fact of the matter is that lost sleep is lost for ever. You cannot catch up and trying to do so by sleeping during the day will only make things worse. You will feel lousy and have more trouble sleeping the next night. What you should be doing is seeing a doctor if you have medical problems and all those other things you know you need to do to achieve a good night’s sleep (comfortable mattress, just right pillow and quilt, dark quiet room, camomile tea, regular bed time, good diet, not too much alcohol, exercise, temperature, sleeping pills, blah blah).

 

Plus find time to have a regular nap every day! You don’t need a lot – 20 to 30 minutes at lunch time is fine, in your car if need be. I’ve done it loads of times. Believe me, I’m an expert in the art of the nap. And I’m not alone – as a junior executive 40 years ago I used to chuckle when I saw our not so young Managing Director slipping off to his car for a lie down at 1 o’clock each day, but by golly, the guy was a human dynamo the rest of his long working day and I learned a heck of a lot from him. Other more well-known nappers include Winston Churchill, Napoleon Bonaparte, JFK and Albert Einstein. Apparently Albert used to work all hours, like crazy, to the point of total exhaustion – then, he’d make himself a cup of tea, settle into a comfy armchair, drink, place the cup on the floor by his side, and totally relax holding the teaspoon above the cup. As he drifted off into deep sleep, the spoon would fall, rattling into the cup and waking him up - feeling fully refreshed and ready to get back to work.

 

Which brings me to the gentle ART OF NAPPING.

 

It doesn’t matter whether it is a planned nap – to ward of getting tired because you have something important on later or will be staying up late.

 

Or an emergency nap – due to driver fatigue. I once very nearly fell asleep while riding my motor scooter after a big night out.

 

Or habitual napping – a regular nap at the same time each day.

The principals are all the same.

 

1. Don’t think that you are going to have a sleep. Focus on completely relaxing. Totally resting. The minute you try to sleep, you’ll find you are completely awake.

2. Don’t worry about being as comfortable as you would if you were trying to go to sleep at night. If a bed is available, all well and good – but even then you are only wanting to rest and relax. If you normally lie on your side to sleep, lie on your back to nap.

3. Get as comfortable as possible. Loosen clothing, car seat back, head cushioned as best you can.

4. Turn your mind off. Especially from work matters. Maybe read a paper or book for 5 minutes, or even listen to the radio.

5. Close your eyes. Totally relax, take regular deep breathes. Enjoy the feeling of total relaxation. DON’T THINK YOU ARE TRYING TO SLEEP. Just know the rest is doing you good.

6. It doesn’t matter whether you actually fall asleep or not. Just daydreaming for 20 minutes will leave you feeling much more alert and relaxed.

7. Personally I don’t think I have ever napped for more than 30 minutes, but I am a poor sleeper. If you fall asleep easily and are likely to stay that way, set an alarm for when you want to wake up – and don’t allow yourself to sleep for too long.

8. Travel is tiring. It is good to nap when travelling and just go with the motion of whatever mode of transport you are in. My all-time favourite travel naps are on aeroplanes. The trick is to read while the plane is taxiing out and revving up – then as soon as it starts zooming down the runway you sit as far back in your seat as possible and totally relax with eyes closed, breathing deeply. As the plain lifts you settle into a more horizontal position and the quick reduction in oxygen as you gain altitude sends you off into a lovely little nap for at least 20 minutes.

 

Happy napping.

 

Tim.