Road Signs for Success – May 7, 2008

By Paula Lau 

I trekked through my dining room trailing unfolded laundry, with a piece of homework that needed editing, while trying to balance a few dirty dishes in my arms and there I spied our dog, Sabrina. She was laid out on the floor in her characteristically supine position — sleeping. Blissfully unaware of her owner’s crazed condition. And, not for the first time, I thought (in the infamous words of Teresa Heinz) “I wish I were a dog.”

If you’re like me, you’ve probably thought many a time how nice it would be if you had no more responsibilities than the family cat or dog. But, in reality, your animals may be engaged in an activity that (should you adopt it) could significantly change your physical health, increase your peace of mind and productivity at work all at the same time. Animals have a wonderful capacity to, you guessed it, nap. 

Anyone who has ever suffered from insomnia knows that there is nothing more frustrating and/or debilitating than being unable to get a good night’s rest. As a mental health therapist in a psychiatric hospital one of the first goals for my clients is to see them get the rest that they need. Getting enough rest is essential to maintaining our physical health and mental well being. In her book, Take A Nap; Change Your Life, Dr. Sara Mednick points out, “After air, food and water, sleep is the most critical necessity for maintaining the body’s vital organs and systems.” She goes on to say, “Studies have conclusively linked sleeplessness to irritability, anger, depression and mental exhaustion.” Not getting enough rest has been linked to increased risk of cancer and diabetes, weight gain and other conditions that truly can impede your enjoyment of life. It is also becoming increasingly clear that America’s sleeplessness is causing problems on the job and at home.

Most adults in America today operate on anywhere from five to seven hours of sleep each night. By and large, most of us should be shooting for at least eight hours of sleep. The medical community would tell you that this is not a suggestion, but a necessity. Take a look at your lifestyle. What are the things that are keeping you from getting the rest that you need? Are you watching too much T.V., on the internet too much, over scheduling yourself and your family, saying yes to too much activity and responsibilities? Also, be sure and look at the amount of caffeine you are ingesting. Over time, too much caffeine actually makes you more tired. You build tolerance, just like with any drug and you have to ingest more and more to get the same benefit.

Dr. Melnick makes a case for taking a brief nap during the day. Our body’s natural circadian rhythm dips right around the noon hour. A fifteen to twenty minute nap at that time will re-energize you. Study after study proves that naps will make you more productive in every way. What’s interesting to note is that many years ago in our agrarian society, most folks got at least 10 hours of sleep a night! In many cultures, people did not go out at noon day believing that particular spirits and demons were afoot. Hence, the siesta. So the reality is that our ancestors (for whatever reasons) knew something that we seem to have forgotten. 

If all else fails, consider taking a sleeping aid. There are many good options on the market today. Getting a full night’s rest and a brief nap during the day will improve your outlook and productivity in every way.

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