Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Can you imagine how hot a topic sleep is these days? Do a Google search on “sleep.” Today there are 148,000,000 entries. Just for the word “sleep. Respectable magazines, newspapers, news shows, medical journals, poems, stories, millions of words are being written about sleep and how much we, Americans, are deprived of this essential part of life.

Recent studies reveal that the lack of sleep is at epidemic proportions, costing over $150 billion in lost worker productivity and high levels of stress. Over 50% of Americans report having trouble sleeping one or more nights a week and nearly 75% say they are sleep deprived. Lack of sleep can drive you mad. It can make you sick, literally.

Without question now, science declares that lack of sleep leads to several health problems: fatigue, obesity, diabetes, depression, elevated blood pressure. Secondary issues emerge as a result of fatigue. Accident reports often cite the cause of the accident as sleep related. And more than half of those driving trucks across this country, for example, report sleep deprivation and fatigue. The medical profession walks a fine line between preparing doctors to stay focused on patients regardless of competing human demands and ensuring safety of patients by allowing interns, for example, enough sleep.

There are so many angles on this topic, we’ll need many blogs to unravel them all. This week I’m taken with research by Dr. Sara Mednick (photo at right), a research scientist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, CA. She received her PhD in psychology from Harvard University. Her book, Take a Nap: Change Your Life. Dr. Mednick’s research is focused on understanding how napping can improve human performance. She introduces her Nap Wheel and discusses optimum napping time and how it’s possible to design a nap to inspire creativity one day, and the next day design one to help us with memory enhancement. I listened to her today on the radio while doing errands. She described how important it is to consider a nap during the day, no longer than 20 minutes, and in some cases only 10 or 15 minutes. She noted how caffeinated our culture is and argues that napping provides a natural way to refresh, enhance performance and otherwise improve the quality of life and work.

The discussion centered on the stigma of “sleeping on the job.” Our culture values high levels of productivity and the idea that people are sleeping during their work day is a notion difficult to accept. Dr. Mednick reminded listeners, however, that people sleep at work every day, most without their bosses ever noticing. And the calls into the program confirmed her assertion. Several callers said they and their colleagues have a notification system at play to ensure no one gets caught napping on the job.

Maybe it’s because I was raised in New England, but I only nap if I’m sick. I’m sure all those reminders about idle hands and devils definitely influenced my choices about saving sleep for night time. That’s not to say I don’t occasionally experience sleepiness during the afternoon. So, is it natural to nap? Dr. Mednick says yes. When subjects are tested in environments without clues about time of day, they almost always fall into natural rhythms, including a nap at some point midway through periods of being awake.

Of particular interest to me is why daytime sleep is very different from night sleep. It’s important not to nap long, Dr. Mednick says. Sticking to something between 10 and 30 minutes is ideal. Otherwise, your body might mistake the nap for night sleep and you’ll wake up groggy and slow.

So, what about you? Do you take a nap regularly? If so, tell us more about your routines. If not, why not? We’ll talk more about sleep in these pages. We hope you will join the conversation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yea! Permission to nap. I love to take quick catnaps during the afternoon. It sure does work better than having that extra soda!! I think we sould go back to having siestas every day. I would gladly extend my work day by 1/2 hour if I knew I would be allowed to use it for a nap!!