The fine art of napping
By Ken Root
Some call it sleeping at a time when you should be working, but I call it a great means of reinvigorating the mind and body. Being able to settle in for a brief time and awaken refreshed is a skill that must be developed over a lifetime. I hope to reach the peak of my personal napping ability in the years ahead.
A nap is a break from the physical and emotional stresses of the day. It is craved by the mind as much as the body but they both have to work together to accomplish this feat. It requires self-confidence and physical assurance to do so. A "short sleep" is really not a good description of something so complex and personal. Almost everyone can shut down for a brief period, but the key is getting back to work or socially re-engaging when the nap is over.
My father was about as good as you could get. In his prime, he could sleep under the hay truck and then jump on and work for the rest of the day. In his later years, he could take multiple naps in a single day. He was known to nap before breakfast, before lunch and before dinner then again before bedtime. He did so in the face of my mother, who cooked while he slept then awakened him and watched him eat. If she'd hit him with a frying pan, I don't think there is a jury that would have convicted her.
I rarely get a nap, except on the weekends. My work and lifestyle just don't allow me to snooze in the office, beside the road or lie down beside a microphone and make Zs. But when I get to the two days over which I have control, I find that a nap is a mid-afternoon joy.
Here is one of the fine points: "Don't sleep too long." The rhythm thing is accurate. If you let yourself get too deep it's hard to bounce back. I find that 20 minutes is minimal and one hour is my maximum. More than that and I am groggy for quite a while and often require cold water to the face to revive. There is even a "nap app" now available for your smart phone:
"The Nap App is an alarm clock specifically designed for nappers. With just a single button press, you can be napping. Take a Cat Nap or a Grizzly Nap, or create your own custom nap with ease. The Nap App for Android will wake you up after the desired time and let you get on with your life."
A good "nap master" will anticipate opportunities to nap. My mentor in farm broadcasting, Russell Pierson, now 101, would start his day at 2:45 a.m. He would anticipate that we would head out after our morning programming, at about 7:30 a.m., and have a one-hour drive. While I drove, he would sleep from driveway to driveway and then wake up with great energy. His first words would sound like he had never been asleep.
I do the same when getting ready to catch an airplane. I push right up to getting on board and try to get a window seat so the attendants can't ram me with the cart and the tourists can't drop luggage on me. I sit down, fasten up and pass out. Often, I don't remember take-off and only rouse when they threaten me before landing. My greatest nap was in a hotel in Frankfort, Germany, in the mid 1980s, as we were on a 39-hour push to cover the hostages on TWA Flight 847. I was editing with my photographer when a CBS Network crew walked in. They had first claim to all equipment and politely asked to use the bay for one hour. My photographer groaned but I said, "No problem," and walked over to the single bed in the corner of the room. I asked them to wake me when they were finished. I immediately went to sleep and, one hour later, they announced they were finished and left the room. I jumped up and was ready to go back to work. The photographer had sat there watching them for the full time and he was just a little more dead than when I had last seen him.
The way I look at it, a nap is as good for other people as it is for you. Rather than become grumpy or turn into a zombie, just step away (physically or emotionally) and get into your zone. I like to think of leaning back in an old chair, along a line of tall cottonwood trees that are rustling in a warm summer breeze. About five minutes later, I'm gone and when I come back, I'm happier and more energetic. Those around me are usually jealous.
You can even teach your kids to nap. Mothers do it just to keep from going crazy but one of my friend's greatest joys was to have a Sunday afternoon nap with his young daughter curled up beside him. Mom got some "me" time and knew dad and daughter were fine.
Many people, including some who won't admit it, sleep during the noon hour. Lunch, followed by a short nap, can make an hour in to an oasis. Your food digests and your mind decompresses. Dreaming is optional.
If you have any napping stories or advice, send them my way. I hope to have another 30 years to perfect my craft.
Editor's note: Ken Root has been an agricultural reporter for 37 years. Root now does daily radio and television programming and is a columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.