That day has already arrived for me. Starting in my late twenties, I had insomnia for more than six years. By the time I was knocked flat on my back by chronic fatigue syndrome in my early thirties, I was desperate to find relief.
I tried lots of solutions, including homeopathic remedies, sleeping pills and herbs. Nothing seemed to help, and everything had weird side effects. I'd been studying Buddhist meditation for years, and I determined that the answer to my problem was spiritual. I asked my teachers for a solution. One of the most respected Tibetan lamas, Gelek Rinpoche, told me I would get better soon but that spiritual practices didn't hold the answer. "So what do I do?" I asked. His answer took a minute to sink in: "For ten minutes, three times a day, lie down, close your eyes and do nothing." Basically, Rinpoche was telling me to nap.
Parents and teachers are constantly trying to get kids to take naps. Why? Part of it is self-preservation—they want a break from "How does this work?" "When will we be there?" and "Why do I have to share?" But the other part, the bigger part, is to get an overexcited little mind and body to relax so that this mini person doesn't get cranky, exhausted and, eventually, sick. As grown-ups, we don't stop needing this kind of care.
In their book The Art of Napping at Work, Camille and Bill Anthony report that we're more sleep deprived than ever and that it's causing us big trouble. The authors note that "sleepiness is right behind drunkenness as the primary cause of auto accidents." They also point out that the frequency of industrial accidents increases at the traditional napping time, between 1 and 4 P.M. Clearly, a nap would be a good idea. We're all allowed coffee breaks—so why don't we nap instead?
One obstacle is the embarrassment that surrounds the desire for a nap. A colleague of mine confided that she'd been taking naps on her office couch for years, but not even her assistant knew it. She'd shut the door and tell him she was on a conference call. Another problem is that many of us become frustrated if we try to take a nap but don't actually fall asleep. And then there's the worry that if we do fall asleep, we'll wake up so groggy we won't be able to function.
But a nap can be the most rejuvenating thing you do in the middle of the day, and it may even increase your productivity. You can even learn to nap sitting straight up or in a meditation posture on the floor. Of course, you don't want to sleep for too long, so you should monitor the length of your siesta. (I've found 20 minutes is optimal.) "If you nap for more than an hour, you'll go into a deep sleep. When you wake up, you'll have 'nap inertia' and your performance will be sluggish for about an hour afterward," says Jacobs. "Once that subsides, though, your performance will be enhanced."
Next: 4 steps to settle in for a nap