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The Nap

Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 5:00 AM

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All this week on radio, TV, and web, ideastream and The Plain Dealer have been reporting on a topic that we all experience yet may not know much about: sleep. Today we examine the benefits of really brief sleep, otherwise known as “the nap.” Health reporter Anne Glausser has the story.

You’ve battled the morning stream of emails, sent a thoughtful report to your boss, maybe even met up with a friend during lunch…but as your sandwich settles in your belly and you try to gear up for another couple hours of productivity…it hits you:  the afternoon slump.  It’s like a fog sets in on your brain and scrambles the circuits.  Your eyelids get heavy, you’re reading sentences three times without comprehending them, and your energy levels take a nosedive.  Know what I mean?

CAHILL:  All the time-everyday, from 2 to 3.

That’s Cathryn Cahill, eating her lunch in downtown Cleveland. And her strategy to get through it?

CAHILL: Just tough it out. 

Her lunch partner suggests something a lot of us have probably tried:

BENNER:  Coffee?

Others say exercise helps; one guy swears by chugging ice water. 
There is however another option for contending with the slump.  I’ll let George explain.

SEINFELD CLIP: 
GEORGE: Jerry, look at my eyes.
JERRY:  Hmm, a little less beady today.
GEORGE:  That’s because I’m refreshed. I finally found a way to sleep in my office.  Under my desk.  I lie on my back, I tuck in the chair, I’m invisible!
JERRY:  Sounds like a really cool fort.
(fade on laughter)

Most of us can’t sneak under the desk for an afternoon siesta like Costanza does in this Seinfeld clip-and it would be frowned upon if we tried-but research suggests that maybe we, and our employers, should re-think this nap stigma.

CLICK:  People naturally tend to go through a little bit of a slump during the early part of the afternoon and so taking a little bit of time for some quite rest, you know napping, is one way that people can recoup some of that energy and be able to move forward and be productive with the rest of their work time.

That’s Elizabeth Click, assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University who teaches about work and health at their school of nursing

CLICK:  As many workplaces are trying to foster healthier environments, this is a nice additional benefit to consider.

In a 2008 article, British researchers found that a 20 minute nap beat out caffeine, for curbing those afternoon yawns.  They found the nap was more effective at combating sleepiness than even having more time to sleep at night. 

The message from this study and from other researchers--including some Harvard sleep specialists--is that a nap is nothing to poo-poo.

Afternoon naps are so effective because there’s actually a physiological basis for the slump we feel around 2 o’clock. 

Dr. Joseph Golish, a sleep medicine physician at MetroHealth, explains how our “circadian rhythm” is to blame for the afternoon lull.

GOLISH:  Circadian rhythm refers to the normal internal clock that we all have.

It’s our circadian rhythm talking when we feel sleepy at night, and awake in the morning.  But there’s a twist. Again, Dr. Golish:

GOLISH:  There is a little dip in the circadian rhythm that occurs early afternoon.  The siesta capitalizes on that.  And if one works in an environment where that can be accomplished, it’s not a bad thing.

Some people, given the opportunity, would easily sink into a midday snooze. 

(low instrumental sound…)

For others, noises, distractions, and work or personal concerns make a restful nap unlikely.

HUSNI:  Your PowerNap will begin momentarily.

That’s the voice of Jonathan Husni, inventor of what’s called the PowerNap, which is one of several new napping products now on the market.  Husni--an avid musician and entrepreneur in Beachwood OH--created this napping CD as a way to help people relax. 

HUSNI: Well powernap will put your brain in a state of relaxation, is basically the idea. It causes the brain to follow the same wavelength patterns as it would during normal sleep.  And it almost creates a follow the bouncing ball kind of effect.

The idea is that powernap uses a blend of audible and inaudible sound frequencies to guide your brain through a full cycle of sleep in only about 30 minutes…most of the evidence for this is anecdotal and no scientific trials have been conducted to confirm or deny the effect.

Still, sleep doctors like MetroHealth’s Golish say there’s no harm in trying out the CD.

GOLISH:  If it refreshes a person, that’s great.

The key with naps is timing—20 minutes is about the sweet spot.  Any longer and you’ll sink into deeper stages of sleep and wake up feeling groggy and disoriented. Husni’s powernap guides a listener to a state of wakefulness at the end of the tape, without the jarring sensation of an alarm clock. 

And while evidence mounts on the health and productivity benefits of some short shuteye, the idea of napping at work is still very far from mainstream. 

LaHOOD: We’re not going to pay controllers to nap. We’re just not going to do that.

That’s Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, speaking this April to CBS News after the rash of air traffic controllers who fell asleep on the job. 

Sleep experts recommend scheduled nap breaks to optimize alertness in controllers...but there hasn’t been a change in policy.

Some workplaces are more progressive—including in fact Progressive Insurance here in Ohio.  Elizabeth Click, before moving to her current position at Case, ran the workplace wellness program there for 12 years and during this time, she set up quiet rooms—with darkened shades, room partitions, recliners and relaxation tapes--where employees could go to recoup.

CLICK:  You know in the regular 15 minute breaks that they would be legally allowed, they could use that time there. The basic guideline was that you could come in there and sleep or relax, meditate.

The quiet rooms are still in place, and people use them.  J.C. Jones, business leader of compensation and benefits at Progressive, explains that the quiet rooms are an important component to overall employee health and productivity:

JONES:  I think there are a wealth of published clinical data out there on the value of stress relief in the workplace so really that’s why we’ve set them up and use them over the years and found benefit in them.

Google too provides “nap pods” for employees to use--basically little egg-shaped recliner chairs.  And according to a 2010 survey by the Society of Human Resource Management, 5% of organizations polled had some sort of on-site nap room available for employees.

But many employers, according to this same survey, cite concerns with napping…saying it just seems “unprofessional” even if done during breaks, in your car, or behind closed doors.

And according to Kathleen Snyder, a consultant with the Cincinnati-based firm Strategic Human Resources, most companies aren’t even considering a pro-nap policy:

SYNDER: From our experience through our company and my personal experience with my different clients that we’ve dealt with, it’s just not on the radar.

So for now, at least for most of us…getting the nod to nod off from our boss may not be in the cards just yet.

Anne Glausser, 90.3

(HUSNI’s voice on CD: Your nap is over now.  It’s time to wake up.)

Additional Information

NetWellnessideastream is partnering with NetWellness to provide consumer health information about sleep. Click here to go to the NetWellness website for more information about this specific sleep topic.

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Health, Sleep: A Wake-Up Call

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