NAP TIME While napping during the work day is widely considered unacceptable, some countries embrace the concept of afternoon siestas.
I could sleep for Australia. That’s a daft claim, you say, there’s no such thing as competitive sleeping. Not true. An Australian radio station recently hosted a napping competition. The director of the Canberra Sleep Clinic was on hand to judge how quickly participants fell asleep, how long they slept for and pyjama choice. Personally, I think changing into pyjamas means you have moved from napping to sleeping, but I’m a purist.
The winner managed to fall asleep within two minutes, a feat that is pretty impressive. My record under similar conditions is four minutes. My second and third best efforts are under six minutes. When they select the national team, I will argue that I should be in for the multiple napping event: The three times I mentioned above were all set before lunch on the same day (during a sleep study, although I’m pretty sure I could do it again!).
I think I’d be a good shot at an overall event as well. A friend and I, when stuck waiting for a boat in a dead-end town in Chile, once tried to see who could sleep the most in 24 hours. We left the TV on in our room so we could have an idea of how long we were awake for by what we’d seen on it. In the final calculations I could remember a couple of badly dubbed episodes of the Simpsons and a trip to McDonalds. We estimated I slept for 21 hours of the 24.
Every so often though, I do find it hard to sleep. Not regularly or for long periods, but enough to be annoying. I pity anyone who doesn’t get their eight hours every night, and it turns out that could be for good reason. Longitudinal population studies, where subjects are followed for long periods, have suggested that sleep impairments can reliably predict both new incidents of pain and recurrences of chronic pain.
In the area of sports and performance, sleep has been shown to be crucial for a number of reasons. In teenaged athletes, the strongest predictor of injury rates was shown to be sleep hours. This could be at least partly attributed to the fact that reaction times increase in sleep-deprived subjects. Researchers at Stanford have also looked at the positive effects of getting more sleep. They found that by increasing their sleeping time, basketball players were able to improve sprinting speed as well as free-throw and three-point shooting accuracy.
How to improve sleep then? I’m sure we’ve all seen the advice: Go to bed early; don’t use electronic devices at night; no caffeine in the evening; stick to a regular ritual. All of these tips work. But what if your problem isn’t getting off to sleep, but staying asleep? How many times have you found yourself wide awake at 4am for no obvious reason, only to fall asleep again half an hour before the alarm goes off?
One school of thought is that waking in those early hours is a stress response. Regular readers of this section will recall that stress isn’t just psychological, but an overall physiological state that is characterised by over-reliance on anaerobic metabolism that is fuelled by the glycogen stores in your liver.
The problem here is that your liver glycogen is what should fuel your brain during the night, but if you’ve over-stressed yourself during the day, the liver is understocked at bed time. Thus, come 3 or 4am, you run out of fuel and wake up with an adrenaline-fuelled start, your body’s way of saying ‘get up and feed me’. It can take some time for the adrenaline to clear your system, thus it also takes time to get back to sleep.
In these cases, it’s important to either go to bed with a full glycogen supply or to top it up when you wake up. Sounds difficult and technical, but it’s simple and tasty: a spoonful of honey mixed in a cup of milky tea before bed should give enough of the right type of sugars to stock the liver for the night.
The other important thing research has shown is that it is possible to ‘top-up’ your sleep during the day. In other words, naps are good for you. Which means it’s time for me to go!
Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at www.wannarun.ie.