When I was a child and would get particularly crabby, my mother would smile knowingly and recite the letters, “t-i-r-e-d.” Shortly after that, she would tell me that I needed a nap. It didn’t take me long to figure out what she was spelling. I would complain loudly, “I’m not tired.” My protests, “No nap. No nap,” would be overruled. To my chagrin, I would always wake up refreshed and un-t-i-r-e-d!
As I sit at my computer writing, I can hear my dogs snoring. Maybe, I'm still jet-lagged from my trip to Brazil. But that was two weeks ago. I find myself considering a short snooze anyway. I shouldn't. I have suitcases to unpack and things to catch up on. Besides, I can’t be that tired. I slept last night.
Sara C. Mednick, PhD in her book, Take A Nap! Change Your Life, tells us that that “the unseen hand guiding sleep and waking is our so-called biological clock or circadian (circa = around, dia = day) rhythm. There is sort of an internal clock in the part of the human brain called the hypothalamus that affects circadian rhythm. Two large clusters of neurons, located on either side of the brain are considered to be our master clock and one of the tools that our body uses to keep track of time. The way these neurons interact with certain hormones and chemicals is how the body knows when it's time to do certain activities, such as fall asleep, wake up, eat, and others.”
Back in the Stone Age, our ancestors likely slept both at night and during the day. After all, someone had to keep an eye out for Saber Tooth Tigers! With the advent of civilization, we began sleeping in a biphasic manner, twice a day. Only in recent times have we tried to cram all our sleeping in one long, or not-so-long, stretch.
My dogs are stirring now, but tonight, they are likely to wide-awake. Like our domestic pets, the rest of the animal kingdom naps, and Dr. Mednick tells us that we should too. Some corporations are now providing nap rooms, to increase the productivity of their workers. Dr. Mednick tells us that the simple nap is woven into our DNA and giving into it, even making it part of our routine, reduces our stress. World leaders, such as Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were known to have napped on the job.
To nap is natural. In the 1950s, Dr. Aschoff of the Max Planck Institute in Germany carried out a study where volunteers spent several weeks in an environment with no windows, clocks, televisions, radios or newspapers. They had no way to tell the time of day or even whether it was night or day. He monitored the subjects’ temperatures, blood pressures and various other biological indicators and found that after a short period of adjustment to the new surroundings, those being studied settled into our earlier, pre-industrial biphasic pattern. Experiencing a large dip in energy once a day, the subjects slept for 6 to 7 hours. 12 hours later, a mini-slump would send them back to bed for a nap.
If you are still chanting, “No nap,” consider this – It was once thought that by working at midday one could subject oneself to otherwordly demons. Ancient Romans thought that nymphs cast evil spells of madness upon those who missed their midday nap. In the 4th Century, a monk, Evagrius of Pontus, warned his fellow Christians about the spirit of acedia, who attacked souls in the midday. Jewish literature spoke of iharire, midday spirits who hovered just above ground and threatened mayhem. Arabic mythology believed in a midday demon, Qeteb, and in Slavic countries a young woman dressed in white, was said to roam the fields carrying shears and twisting off the necks of noonday workers and grabbing children who weren’t napping, baking them and eating them for lunch.
When all I need to do seems too much for me, I should remember my childhood meltdowns, and opt for 10-15 minutes with my eyes closed. Maybe my mother was onto something. Maybe the Power Nap she insisted I take is why I didn’t become some evil witch’s snack. Do you want to take the chance?