When I was studying in Rome, I never got into the habit of Siesta. The entire city would practically shut down between noon and four. People would leave work or school and sit down for a leisurely lunch with family, then, for the most part, nap through the hottest part of the day before returning to their daily routine.
I was fine with the leisurely lunch, but afterwards, I never could sleep even though my dorm room had blinds that shut out all but the tiniest fragments of light. Instead, I’d read, do homework, hang out with friends. Part of the reason I couldn’t nap was becauses I started class late, so could usually sleep in. I just wasn’t tired. A bigger part of it was probably my German upbringing, which equated napping with that greatest of all sins – idleness. Sleeping midday is something old men did in front of the television. It was not for young people who, if they needed more sleep, should have gone to bed earlier.
People are monophasic sleepers. We sleep for long periods of time and then are awake for long periods of time. This is unlike most animals, who sleep periodically throughout the day. It is unclear whether this is our natural state, or something we have learned over time. One story about napping comes from the ancient Egyptians. They worshipped cats as divine creates, and when they saw cats napping, decided to emulate them by napping as well. It’s a good story, but there’s no proof it is true. I’m more inclined to believe that after mornings of lugging stones up pyramids, they were just plain tired in the afternoons.
In recent years, I’ve become a napping convert. I’ve found that though I get six to sevon hours of sleep each night, taking a 20-30 minute nap midday helps keep me fresh, makes me less cranky, and keeps me from snoring during those 2 pm meetings.
We have a quiet room here at the office. I used to be weary of this room, thinking it was only for the lazy, but now I recommend any employer of sufficient size to have at least one. I’ll go in, close the door, turn the lights down low, settle into the recliner and close my eyes. Sometimes I’m fully asleep, sometimes I just drift, but I always feel better afterwards.
I also set the timer on my phone. The last thing I want is to wake up two hours after the office has closed and the alarms have been set. I recall a movie I saw as a kid called Trapped (1973), about a guy mugged in a shopping mall and tied up in a bathroom stall. He didn’t get free until after the mall was closed. This particular mall released Dobermans at night for security, and so the guy spent most of the movie being chased from store to store, trying not to keep away from them.
We don’t use Dobermans to guard our building, of course (raw meat is too expensive these days). Still, it would be a bit embarrassing explaining to the cops that I set off the alarm because I fell asleep.
Research backs me up on the power of napping. While there is some debate on how long naps should be and their specific benefits, numerous studies have shown that naps not only help us close our sleep deficit, but also improve alertness, motor skills and mood.
Maybe those Egyptian cats had some of the divine in them after all.