Tuesday, August 22, 2006

How to get to the Land of Nod

Restless and jealous, Yorkie Pittstop wonders what he’s missing out on when it comes to post-lunch napping

After lunch, particularly when it’s searing hot outside, I always admire my colleagues attitude: eat lunch in the office, leaving ample time for a wee siesta. It looks lovely. And how they manage to just curl up in a chair or recline between two chairs pulled together is admirable.

On a hot Hanoi afternoon you can often see xe om drivers stretched along their motorbikes, head on the handlebars or xich lo drivers slumped in their own chairs. Fruit vendors can be found nodding off in doorsteps, inside markets sellers sleep on piles of fabric while in shops assistants can be found passed out under the cash register.

I’ll admit that I’ve tried in my office but perhaps there’s more to a post-lunch nap then meets the eye. Inevitably I end up looking as if a train just rolled over my cheek and forehead, just like when I was a kid and nodded off at school and the teacher asked me if I’d been asleep. “Oh no,” I’d say, looking up with a thick red line across my face. “Not me.”

I also struggle waking up again. It takes a couple of coffees and several splashes of water on the face to get me going again. I wish I could siesta, but it seems I’m conditioned to see the day through from dawn to whenever I head for the hills.

Besides the “art” of having a siesta there’s also the culturally ingrained (western) tendency to see taking one as a sign of idleness (and therefore you must be unemployed, downright lazy or fond of puffing on exotic cheroots). To work too hard in the west is seen as commitment to your job. But the truth is a quick nap could help productivity in the afternoon.

NASA (and they have a lot of brainy people involved so they must be right) research discovered the effects a 40-minute snooze had on pilots and astronauts and found there was a 34 per cent improvement in performance and a 100 per cent improvement in alertness. British Airways used this evidence to sanction naps for pilots.

Most adults around the world get an average of 6.5 hours, below the generally recommended 8 hours. Studies show that blood pressure and arterial blood pressure dropped during a siesta. A quick post noon nap also promotes physical well-being, improves your mood and memory and revitalises you. How can doing so little do so much, you wonder.

Oddly enough in Spain where the siesta is seen (at least by outsiders) as a national tradition, sleeping after lunch is becoming less common. Now, as the country aligns itself with international working times, less than 25 per cent of Spaniards enjoy a bit of a shuteye after lunch.

There are however now modern means to meet modern ways – even new terminology: the metronap (check out www.metronaps.com) – with downtown corporate nap parlours appearing in European and American cities. So dog tired business people can recharge the batteries, for a price that is.

Meanwhile in the UK, perhaps, the mad dogs will be left to themselves in the midday sun as Englishmen may soon be heading indoors. Each year as summer temperatures seem to be on the rise health groups are encouraging siestas as a way to beat heat fatigue and heatstroke.

In Germany there are reports of companies offering employees an extra 20 minutes at lunchtime to catch some zzzs – and apparently employees have taken to it rather well.

And so the pendulum swings – back in the tropics, at least in Vietnam, attitudes may be shifting as young professionals feel they don’t have the time for a siesta anymore. While others might prefer to use this free time to meet with friends for coffee or even go shopping.

But when the temperature is well over 30 degrees and considering in Vietnam I have longer lunch hours than I ever had before, plus there’s only so much coffee you can drink, there’s plenty of time and plenty of reasons to have forty winks. I just need to get into the rhythm of it. Perhaps all I have to do is practice… work on my naptitude, if you will.

No comments: