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Power Naps, Health Naps

David Spero

May 14, 2008

People think self-management means giving up things you like. That is so wrong. Self-management really means doing things that you like, but that society doesn’t want you to do. A self-managed life should be more fun and feel better than an unhealthy life (although it can involve more pin pricks and needle sticks).

Want an example? Try taking a nap every afternoon, or most afternoons. Studies actually show that napping reduces the risk of heart disease and provides other health benefits. True, most of these studies were done in places like Greece and Spain, where there’s a long tradition of siestas. But they’re still true.

Consider our evolutionary history. Think about being a hunter/gatherer on the plains of Africa or, later, on the steppes of Asia. You better believe those people (our ancestors) napped in the afternoon! It was too hot to chase animals, and the beasts weren’t around anyway. They were sleeping, too! We have evolved to take naps. Our 8:30–5:30 workdays, often with housework in the evening, may damage our bodies.

Is There Time?
Traditional siestas are usually 15–30 minutes in length and are usually taken after lunch. (The name “siesta” comes from the Latin for “six,” because people usually take them six hours after waking.) Longer naps may be harder to wake up from.

If you’re working full time and only get 30–60 minutes for your lunch break, you may not be able to sleep at work. But taking a real break at lunch, not snorfling food while talking about work or discussing TV shows with your coworkers, can help. Can you spend 15–20 minutes somewhere quiet?

If not, can you arrange a 30-minute break after work, either in the work space, at home, or somewhere in between? Your family will probably want to jump all over you as soon as you get home, so it might be easier to nap in the car, or on the bus, or on a park bench if the weather’s nice.

If you don’t work full time, or if you have days off, there’s no excuse. Take that recharge space. The best time is usually mid-afternoon, halfway through your day. I’ve started napping, then doing some stretches and breathing as I do in the morning. It’s like starting the day over. This is great, because with my MS, I really don’t have the energy to get through an entire 16-hour day.

Instant Naps
I recently learned about a stress-reduction technique called autogenic training (AT). AT was developed in the 1930’s in Germany. It gives you the relaxation and the renewed energy of a nap, but very quickly and without requiring that you fall asleep. Here is a very simple AT-based relaxation:

Just lie back and close your eyes. Repeat softly to yourself: “My right arm is getting heavy. My right arm is heavy. My left arm is heavy. My arms are heavy.” Repeat as needed while paying attention to how your arms feel. Then move on to your legs and let them get heavy. You can add sentences like “I’m breathing very easily.” “My back is getting looser and looser.” “My heart is beating smoothly and strongly.”

Actually, you can say any relaxing body-related thing you want. Pay attention to the body part you are talking about. It’s amazingly relaxing.

I’m not saying to use this technique instead of a nap. Naps still rule. But this is good, too. It might be very interesting to use phrases like “My cells are absorbing and using glucose easily,” or “My beta cells are producing insulin well,” or something like that. And it might be interesting to check your blood glucose about 30 minutes later. It’s never been studied, but I would bet numbers might improve a bit for some people.

What do you think? Do you nap? If not, what stops you? If you try the autogenic training, please let us know what it was like for you.



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