Sleep on this…

Name it what you may, siestas have had a long and illustrious history of being an effective stress-buster. And now, under the pseudonym of ‘power napping’, siestas have become fashionable in major companies in countries not traditionally associated with the concept. US architecture firm Gould Evans Goodman Associates has set up a nap room for its workers, while California-based computer consultancy 42IS Consulting has seen its spending on coffee and soft drinks drop by a third since it created a nap room!

Open your eyes. A study published in Nature Neuroscience says that taking a nap after learning a difficult task might help one perform better. It shows that a 60-90 minute daytime nap can provide the same sleep-related benefits in learning new things as an entire night’s sleep.

Agrees Dr M S Kanwar, senior consultant, sleep disorders, critical care, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi: “A 10-minute siesta can be very refreshing and re-energising for people in active professions — particularly for 40-plus executives who have long working hours. However, it’s a different matter that in today’s hectic life and demanding workplaces, a nap is an absolute luxury. But for those who can resort to it, say for self-employed people or housewives, it can be a great stress-buster. I recommend that all corporate offices should have a lounge area or a corner where stressed employees can catch up with a power nap.”

In fact, researchers at the psychology department of Havard University say that the degree of learning and performance improvement that power nappers gained from as little as one hour of sleep was equal to the gains found after a full night’s sleep (eight hours). But they say more research was needed before a mid-day power nap could be justified as learning on the job.

Agrees Dr Samir Parikh, senior consultant, psychiatry, department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Max Healthcare. He feels that the benefits can’t be generalised and the effect of daytime nap varies from individual to individual.

“The more important factor at work is to understand that consistency of performance can’t be maintained. Multiple breaks are a must and these could be in any form — siesta, rejuvenation, an indoor game, or anything which gives you physical and mental relaxation. Companies should provide an environment where the employees can break away from the monotony of work to achieve better productivity,” he says.

According to another school of thought, napping is natural and although the urge to nap isn’t overpowering, our clock is set for two sleeps a day — the main one at night and another in the afternoon. Researchers find that our bodies prefer this second sleep somewhere between 1 pm and 4 pm when our body temperature dips slightly.

People who increase their night-time sleep often find that this afternoon dip eventually disappears, although a 10-minute nap at lunch time appears to be equally effective. Here, it is generally accepted that digesting food is a major cause of that dozing feeling (the bigger the lunch, the greater the sleepiness, runs the argument).

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