The other day I came home from a hard ride and immediately scarfed down some food and took a shower. I executed these tasks in a hurry. My next mission was crucial to my well being. It was nap time. I am a serial napper (I don’t nap daily, although I wish I could) and I take this assignment seriously. I do not take fake naps by turning on the TV and lying down on the couch (people that nap that way have nap denial). No, I dress for the occasion in my jammies, crawl into bed, and pull the covers over tightly. Usually I set an alarm, but from time to time when nothing is pressing, I sleep until my eyes open naturally.
I discovered napping in high school. Morning swim workouts started at 4:30am meaning I was up at 3:52 (at that hour, every minute counts). I rushed home from school every day to cram in a short sleep before the afternoon swim (I have no idea when I did homework). I carried this habit to college. Most of the students shunned early classes. Not me. I chose my schedules based on time; the earlier the better, I was up anyway for swimming. The afternoons were sacred and I was always perturbed when I had to go to class during naptime (I am sure this is why I struggled so much with my Neuroscience class, it was at 2pm. Had it been at 8am I would have done much better). And now, I aim to fit in a nap a few days a week to offset my ingrained habit of rising early.
Of course, I prefer to nap curled up in my own bed. That is not always an option, though. I have napped in regular places such as couches, airplanes, and cars. In desperation I have napped seated on a chair when I worked in an office. I have snuck in some shut eye during classes or seminars. I have fallen asleep under a tree after a race. When I am training away from home and the convenience of rushing back to the house is not possible, I have slept in the rental car between workouts. No doubt, I am a napahollic.
Sleep is comprised of two states, REM and NREM (of which there are 4 stages). Sleep begins with NREM and this is when the body repairs and regenerates tissues, builds bone and muscle, and strengthen the immune system. Dreams take place during REM sleep, which usually occurs 90 minutes after falling asleep. This entire sleep cycle is shortened during a nap and sometimes even happens out of order. I often experience hypnic myoclonias (my Sleep and Dreams professor would be so proud I remember this terminology) when I take a nap, a phenomenon where I feel like I am falling and then jerk awake violently. Making nap time all that much more exciting (what will I trip on today?). While the exact nature of this event is unknown, it is thought that going from wakefulness straight to REM sleep is the cause. Since states of sleep are shorter during a nap, I usually remember my dreams.
Napping is generally eschewed upon graduation from nursery school. I cannot understand why. A quality nap is more satisfying than a good night of sleep! Even 30 minutes can completely change the daily outlook and I contend that napping should be a required part of everyone’s daily routine. A national mid-day siesta should be implemented, much as they do in Latin America. Not only is a nap refreshing, but there is an added benefit of reduced risk for heart attack and a boost in brain power.