Once again, the topic for my blog today was inspired by an op-ed piece I read in the NYTimes this morning. Believe it or not, I actually picked up an physical paper, flipped the pages and read the whole article without retreating to the comfort of my computer. Anyway, on to the topic at hand, sleeping. According to the article, "Rethinking Sleep" by David Randall, about 41 million Americans suffer from sleep deprivation or lack of sleep. That's just the working adults, not to mention anyone else who has issues with sleeping through the night. The major question that the article brings up is, "Why are we so tied to the notion of 8 straight hours of sleep at night?" The question isn't verbatim, but it essentially what the article is asking. So why are we in essence "wed" to this notion of sleeping 8 hours at night. Looking back into history, the notion of an 8 hour stretch of sleep is a relatively new idea. There are a number of historical documents which mention a first sleep and a second sleep. Even culturally, countries differ with what is the norm when it comes to sleeping. There are currently countries from Spain to India whose populations are more likely to take naps during the afternoon. So why is there this overwhelming pressure in our society to get our 8 hours of sleep at night and not split it into different segments? Part of it probably stems from our workaholic culture where we must press on throughout the day without a break and get as much done as possible. Another reason this notion persists is due to doctors and the medical profession urging everyone to get their 8 hours, not say 6 and 2 hours. There is evidence, however, that this notion may be changing somewhat. There have been recent studies done that show people are actually more productive when they are allowed to respond to their bodies needs and take an afternoon nap. It is posited that sleep allows us to process all the new information we received during our waking our hours and prepare for our next stint at wakefulness. The studies also show that people are more likely to remember important information and function at a higher level after a break in the work day. Sounds good to me.
Google is one of the companies that is slowly changing the trend by allowing employees to take naps if they wish to rejuvenate and get themselves back in the game so to speak. They believe that napping will increase productivity and allow for a more positive work environment. While they may be leading the way in the United States, I somehow have trouble envisioning Wall Street setting up cots in a back room so traders can take naps at will. I for one, fully support the idea of segmented sleep. I normally get an average of 6 hours of sleep at night. I could definitely use an afternoon nap every day, however, I often times don't take one because along with the majority of the American population, I believe in working hard without breaks and getting as much done as possible. The question is, would I get more done if I took that nap versus not taking the nap? I don't know, I guess it all depends on how long the nap is. Now, don't get me wrong, I have taken short naps at work before. They usually occur after lunch while my body is processing all the food I just ate. As I don't have a desk, I simply retreat to my van, recline the seat a little, and close my eyes for 20-30 minutes. I rarely nap for more than 30 minutes at work, yet regardless of how long I nap, I do feel better after waking and once the fog of sleep wears off, I function better as well. Even on days off, on weekends, or whenever, I am usually tempted to take an afternoon nap despite the rarity of my actually doing so. Perhaps I should start making it part of my week, the afternoon nap. In fact, I might actually do a test run next week and see how the afternoon nap actually works for me. I think I will try it every day and see how my afternoons go. I find that when I don't take a nap, which is pretty much every day, I hit a point in the afternoon where my body says "enough" and wants to shut down for a bit. True to the American psyche, I push on and wear my body down a little bit more before finally ending work for the day. Maybe its time to start changing our notions of sleep.
I think the only way we could feasibly alter America's notion of sleep is to focus on the productivity aspect of it. As we are a driven society, hell bent on making as much money as possible and fitting every activity we can into a single day, if we can increase productivity with an afternoon nap, then people might actually be on board. The biggest obstacle we would face would be the large corporations that look down upon people resting their heads on their desks and nodding off for a bit. Anything is possible if you get enough people behind an idea. (Yeah, lets try and get Americans behind one single idea, right, that will happen (note sarcasm)). Maybe one day things will change, but I am pretty sure it won't happen anytime soon. I still remember the first time I was exposed to a different sleep pattern, or lifestyle if you will. It was when I traveled to Spain in high school and witnessed their siesta. I instantly fell in love with the idea. I thought it was the greatest thing that everything shut down in the afternoon for a few hours while people went and spent time with their families, took naps, and rejuvenated themselves for the rest of the work day. Yet, as soon as I came home, it was right back to the old 8 hours at night, push all day culture. Since that trip I took back in high school, I have always wanted to incorporate the siesta into American life, but was never able to. Maybe this coming week, as I mentioned above, I will start it for myself and see how it goes. It won't be a true siesta with a few hour break, but at least it will be a nap where I can rejuvenate myself a little bit. Hell, I might even start it today and see how it goes. There is nothing wrong in my mind with a little afternoon nap, take one yourself and see how it goes.