Monday, September 06, 2010

The Case for Being Caught Napping

A new survey shows that 34 percent of Americans take a daily snooze, setting off lively debate about the benefits to body and mind of a brief break from the pace of digital life.

Another study suggests that "an hour’s nap can dramatically boost and restore your brain not only refreshes the mind but can make you smarter."

“Almost certainly," says a research psychologist, making the case against ceaseless stimulation, "downtime lets the brain go over experiences it’s had, solidify them and turn them into permanent long-term memories.”

If all this sounds like a rationalization for sloth, let me bear witness as an inveterate napper.

It began during World War II when trainees had to watch a weekly series of short films called “Why We Fight.” As a strident voice denounced Hitler and Hirohito to loud marching music, I sat at attention and slept. When the lights came on, I felt revived for more bayonet drills, calisthenics and obstacle courses.

I took that lesson into the working world now immortalized by "Mad Men." After acquiring an office with a couch, there were fewer two-martini lunches and more half-hour naps instead. More often than not, I woke up with answers to questions that had eluded me all morning.

The current upsurge in napping advocacy has even inspired a New York Times editorial:

"So why is it easier to find a coffee machine in the office than a spot for a doze? Perhaps the simplest answer is that sleep is so relentlessly personal. We are never more who we really are than when sound asleep, and being who we really are is something we’re supposed to do on our personal time.

"But let’s try to think of it this way. Plenty of us bring work home. Why not bring a little sleep to the office? It worked in kindergarten. It would work even better now."

So let the debate go on. Wake me when it's over.

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