On Napping

Earlier this week a report was circulating on the Web about the benefits of napping. Since I am a serious napper, I read it with keen interest. It appears naps are good for the mind or as the BBC report headlined “Nap boosts brain learning power.” The study reported that 39 individuals who were allowed to snooze for a while after taking a “hard learning task” in the morning outperformed those who had to get through the day without a siesta.

However, we are not told how large the difference was or given much information about the process that led to the performance improvement. Dr. Matthew Walker of UC Berkeley who conducted the study said: “Sleep not only rights the wrong of prolonged wakefulness, but, at the neurocognitive level, it moves you beyond where you were before you took a nap.” This doesn’t seem to help me much.

A few years before, Dr. Martha Mednick reported similar findings in a study in which a nap that included REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep led to nearly a “40 percent improvement compared to the pre-nap performance on a word-association test. Individuals who didn’t experience REM sleep improved slightly, but their pre-and-post nap differences were modest and not statistically significant

These results also agree with my many years of napping experience. Since I rise early, a nap has become a bit of a necessity. I am totally refreshed after a short, mid-day nap. When I do really conk out for even a very short time, I actually feel much better after the nap than I did in the morning after a full night of sleep.

In a way, a mid-day nap really creates two separate days for me. There is the morning day and then the afternoon day and perhaps yet another evening day if I can manage that, something I’ve never really been able to achieve even when I needed to.

After I read the BBC report, I recall reading a delightful essay by Joseph Epstein on “The Art of Napping.” I searched without success for a copy in my files and I searched for copy on the Web, again without any luck. In doing so, I learned that the essay was included in book of Epstein’s essays, Narcissus Leaves the Pool.

I could order the book from Amazon but it would take weeks to arrive. Or I could walk a few blocks down to Powell’s to buy their one remaining copy. But it was rather too cold for me to venture out and besides the book would cost a fair amount and my bookshelf was running out of space anyway. What was I to do?

Lo and behold, Google Books came to my rescue. The complete essay is there and while I couldn’t print a copy or copy any passages, I could separately take notes while I read it, one page at a time. Doing that wasn’t so bad, at least it wasn’t reading the essay on my computer where note taking is easy. All this surprised me. Thank you Sergey and Larry. Perhaps one day it will be just as nice with some of the new e-readers that are currently making deep inroads on the reading experience.

Some well known individuals have been excellent nappers. Thomas Edison was said to be a superb napper and attributes much of his inventive energy to them. So was former President Bill Clinton, who was also known to be a voracious reader. No doubt, he also took advantage of his napping time to read for a while, as I do. Sometimes I think that is one of the reasons napping is such a treat for me

Other first-class nappers include Ronald Reagan, who seemed to be napping most of the day. Leonardo DaVinci for other much valued reasons also napped on and off during the day, but hardly slept at all at night. John D. Rockefeller also took a daily nap and for all I know may have regarded the experience as the royal road to wealth.

In his charming essay Epstein discusses the various ways napping affects his life. He recalls, “At the University of Chicago, I slept through the better part of the Italian Renaissance, or at any rate through a course in the history of art. As a teacher myself, I am now being justly repaid by having students fall asleep in my own classes.”

He also mentions some of the works of literature where it plays a lesser role. He cites Prince Bolkonsky’s comment in Tolstoy’s War and Peace, “A nap after dinner was silver, a nap before dinner golden.”