Don’t feel guilty about taking a nap
Sleep plays a crucial role in our health. But what can we do to help people get sufficient — and good quality — sleep? Dr Michael Howell is an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota. He’s a great advocate of the value of taking a nap. “It would be nice if we’d recognise that sleepiness — being sleepy and falling asleep during the day — doesn’t mean you’re lazy,” he says. “If somebody at work needs to go put their head down and take a nap, they should be able to do that. Believe me, it’s well worth it to everybody else — all your colleagues — if you’re allowed to take a 20-minute nap, if that’s what you need.
“I think about the children I went to school with who were falling asleep in class, and everybody made fun of them, even the teachers. Let’s put it this way: What would happen to a teacher who made fun of somebody’s eating disorder or somebody’s depression? They’d be fired, as they should be. The difference is that going to sleep is thought of as a purposeful process, and if you fall asleep in class, you’re lazy. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
“I’m a huge believer in naps. Ninety percent of the human population takes a stimulant at some point during the day, usually caffeine. We do that to wipe out the normal mid-day sleep we would be getting.
“It’s hard to get people to realise that we’d all benefit if we let other people get more sleep. For one thing, there’d be fewer road accidents. Our research has found that about four per cent of Americans admitted to having fallen asleep while driving within the previous month. That’s a terrifying statistic.
“One of our greatest public health threats is people who fall asleep while driving. I don’t think this problem is going to be solved until robotic cars and automation solve it for us — until human beings are no longer required to operate a heavy object that’s traveling at incredible forces and speeds.
“Other reasons for getting a good night’s sleep are that we feel better when we wake up. We’re less tired. We’re more restful. We’re more alert. We can respond quicker. Our reaction times are faster. Athletes play better. Children are able to retain information from their teachers better. Our moods are better. We actually stop acting like adolescents when we get a good night’s sleep. In fact, a good way to turn anybody into a teenager is just to sleep-deprive them overnight. They lose their inhibitions. They become more impulsive. How many road-rage incidents that occur in the morning are related to a couple of people who just didn’t get a decent night of sleep.
“Sleep is a fascinating topic, and one that is essential to good physical and psychological health. But people tend not to take it seriously, or, at least, not seriously enough to try to improve their sleeping habit. I hope that changes.”