Tuesday, September 25, 2012

And so to bed

Embedded in the part of the brain that controls my biorhythms there must something like an anti-alarm clock. For as long as I can remember it has gone off around two o'clock in the afternoon to whisper in my ear: "Time to take a nap." To reinforce the signal, almost non-stop yawning ensues, along with somewhat blurred vision and an urge to head for the nearest bed, couch or any other soft, horizontal surface.

While growing up in Cuba, the culture indulged my biorhythms. As I recall, we had a couple of hours off for lunch, time enough for a quick bite and a slightly longer nap before returning to school. The cost of that forgiving schedule was a school day that ran until about five o'clock. 

Zzzz: Just collecting my thoughts.
The U.S. is not that accommodating with early-afternoon napping aficionados. At work you're expected to run to a caloric refueling station, known as the company cafeteria, vacuum some food off your plate and return to your task station within an hour, preferably sooner. 

If some urgent project or deadline is pending, you may not even have a chance to visit the cafeteria and be reduced to snarfing some prepackaged food at your desk. 

In the present American economy, in which many workers find themselves trapped between the demands of hyperproductivity and fear of layoffs, any time for napping is particularly inconceivable. 

Retirement should be a time to ditch all those constraints and indulge my napping instincts but it's not that easy. 

Telling someone you can't meet them at two o'clock because that's your nap time sounds indolent even in a geezerville like San Miguel de Allende, which is located in Mexico, no less, which has its own traditions of mid-afternoon comidas, siestas and other forms of relaxation. 

Instead, napping during daylight hours evokes a certain feeling of fuddy-duddiness, like meeting someone at the door at noon while still in your pajamas. Geez, don't you have anything better to do with your life? 

My grandmother Herminia used to take long naps, with her cat Cachucha contentedly lying on her lap,  and without the benefit of a bed. The two dozed off regularly on her rocking chair around one or two o'clock in the afternoon, the warm, humid air of Cuba overpowering the perennial noise that came from the ivory-colored Philco radio nearby. 

But you could understand that: Grandma was in her eighties, for God's sake. And anyway, after an hour or so she'd get up, and with Cachucha in tow, head for her neo-medieval kitchen, equipped with a charcoal stove, and prepare some fabulous dinner. 

A nap was just not a sign of sloth but rather her version of revving up her culinary engines prior to another takeoff, like a ancient but trusty DC-3 rumbling down the runway. 

My dad didn't take afternoon naps but instead succumbed shortly after dinner, on the front porch of our house.  He would leave the doors of the living room open so he supposedly could sit outside, where the air was cooler, and still watch the television inside. 

I remember his routine clearly because one day he sat snoring loudly on the porch and small frog jumped inside his wide-open mouth.

In a weekend New York Times column, David K. Randall argues against the tyranny of eight consecutive hours of sleep that all Americans have been taught is essential for good physical and mental health. (Rethinking Sleep

My grandma may have been right after all, and so are the napping instincts she may have passed on to me.  Indeed Randall says that the nightly drill of eight-hours of sleep is a relatively new concept: After-lunch napping is an age-old tradition throughout much of the world, from China, to India and Latin America. 

It is not a symptom of chronic laziness but a good habit to recharge and reset your mind, and one which helps your creativity and  productivity. A split-sleep schedule is not an aberration to be combated with pills and exercise, but a natural and healthy impulse. 

Google now allows employees to take a quick nap at their desks every afternoon. President Bill Clinton was known to doze off for a half-hour in the Oval Office after lunch to recharge his batteries, though in retrospect parts of him may have awakened a little bit too recharged. 

The other extreme is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who behaved rather bizarrely during the Republican primary, perhaps because he didn't get enough sleep. 

According to a new book by Jay Root, Perry has long suffered from insomnia and other sleep disorders which likely contributed to his dismal performance during the debates with fellow Republicans, though many Texas friends tell me Perry was never the brightest bull in the herd, sleep or not. (How Rick Perry Lost His Edge)

It's only 11:37 a.m. But two and a half hours from now, it will be nap time for me, so don't anyone come knocking at my door then. 

Post a Comment