Friday, July 01, 2005

The Misanthrope – On Napping

It is a good thing, perhaps, to write for the amusement of the public, but is a far higher and nobler thing to write for their instruction, their profit, their actual and tangible benefit.
Mark Twain (1835-1910), humorist, writer

I am on vacation so I have taken the liberty of rerunning a piece I wrote for the Seattle Times in 1995.

If done properly, napping is the Holy Grail of slumberous situations. However, it is not for the timid, as a nap connoisseur I have found a stigma associated with forty winks stolen during the mid-day, time permitting. It's not blatant, but tell someone you have taken a nap or you plan to and a brief conversational pause results. I am certain they are thinking only a sloth would waste such productive time. You can tell by the unctuous comments such as, "Oh I'd love to be able to take a nap, but I'm too busy!" or the patronizing, "It must be nice!" that confirm an anti-napper stance. All criticism aside, taking a real nap requires mental discipline and provides for an energetic and rejuvenated outlook for the remainder of the day.

A nap provides an escape from the worries and stresses of the day. A lapse into a peaceful state of dozing unconsciousness is a natural part of the body's daily rhythms. Siestas are a daily routine in many countries around the world. They are in the U.S. too, but imposed primarily on children who view the noon hour quiescence as punishment. For me, an hour in the land of nod on the weekend or on vacation is pure extrication and pleasure.

The disrepute of this unappreciated art and the confusion with habitual idleness arises because many amateur nappers lack the proper indoctrination and consequently fall into the arms of Morpheus, the god of dreams. A nap does not mean slipping into REM sleep. Nor is it a sudden or abrupt change from wakefulness. It is a gradual passage into a daydream state where thoughts wait freely between sleep and wakefulness. You are still cognizant of background sounds, but the option to ignore or incorporate reality into this afternoon apparition of images serves to enhance this state of being.

Before partaking in this beguiled pastime, a few gentle guidelines are suggested: nap no more than 90 minutes lest it become slumber. The results of a lengthy afternoon snooze, unless you're ill, will lead to immediate crankiness upon awaking and though not initially noticeable will cause wide-eyed awakening at 2 or 3 in the morning, preventing sleep until about 20 minutes before your designated wake-up time.

And of course, avoid inappropriate napping so as to limit unsavory remarks concerning your dignity and those of nappers everywhere. Rude and thoughtless practices by lethargic louts contribute greatly to the lack of appreciation for this mental, mid-day dexterity. Don't doze when visiting, or listening to a friend or coworker's angst, avoid movies and theater if tired, and above all, don't snore. Public snoring is a mortifying betrayal of your caste as a skilled napper. Head bobbing is another amateurish indiscretion. A head that droops and is whiplashed back into place signals inexperience and a lack of self-control.

Develop an internal alarm, which will require practice to perfect. Frequency is a key toward mastering this respite. Weekends and holidays make excellent training days. Practice prudence to avoid falling asleep - appoint someone to gently awaken you. Holidays are excellent catnap days because of their Americana feel: the aroma of cooking turkey or roast. When all the preparations are in place and the food is warming on simmer, take a nap and when the guests arrive, you'll be rested and ready to entertain.

Napping locales are not particularly crucial, yet nuances do exist. Indoors on beds or couches requires two pillows, one for propping your head and one to keep the knees apart. Avoid heavy blankets as the weighted feel provides a too-heavy, lasting comfort - a small quilt or two fits the bill.

Backyard napping requires only a comfortable chaise lounge or a hammock and a quiet, shady, cool spot. Extremes in the weather are very conducive to dozing. To paraphrase former Chicago Cub Ernie Banks, who on nice days suggested the Cubs play two - take two naps. However, this should only be attempted by more advanced nappers with a reliable internal alarm system to avoid early morning side effects. Moderate days have their pleasures as well: It is impossible not to feel drowsy while resting in a shady hammock or in a pleasantly air-conditioned house. The psychological lift is the napper's equivalent, I imagine, to a runner's "high."

As for those who still conclude that any respite is indolent behavior, I say take heed of Robert Louis Stevenson's essay An "Apology for Idlers:" "Extreme busyness, whether at school or college, kirk or market is a symptom of deficient vitality; and a faculty for idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity. There is a sort of dead-alive, hackneyed people about, who are scarcely conscious of living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation."

I have now done my good deed and as Mark Twain wrote, my soul will be permeated with the sacred delight a Christian feels when he has done a good, unselfish deed.


Anonymous said...

Wow son... Didn't know you were such a connosseur on naps... but should have suspected it... since you always took your nap eagerly when you were a little boy !!
Don't forget your coming over for dinner tonight...

B2 said...


Seriously, it makes me wish for a nap right now. But my kids have reached the age that, although they still need naps, finds them not wanting to take them -- and their parents desperate for them. Ah, irony.

On The Mark said...

I've known for years that you're the expert on this subject. My hat has always been off to you. However, what you've described sounds like way too much work to me. Besides, when I shut my eyes I immediately go into REM, usually not all that enjoyable. Last night, for example, I was being chased through the streets of Moscow by the KGB.