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Naps | Science and theory of ZZZs

Naps are definitely not for wimps!

Me, I’m not one of those cowardly conformists who — when they get tired in the middle of the day, as do we all — don’t have the confidence to slip away to a quiet sofa or bed or cornfield, there to boldly close their eye-liddies and do some snoozing, without shame or regret.

No, I’m a proud, hard-core, in-yo-face napper because, afterwards, I feel more energetic and creative.
After 20 minutes of semi-REM sleep, my energy level rockets up and I work better, enjoying it more. The boost that some seek in a coffee cup, I find in my pillow. The buzz that some seek in amphetamine pills, I get from the tender embrace of my teddy bear.

Because of that, I’ve been napping intensely and enthusiastically since the mid-‘90s, becoming one of the top local nappers, able to consistently saw off at least 10-12 ZZZs under the trickiest of conditions. In my lawyer days, for example, I napped many times in a conference room at the Johnny Sopinka criminal courthouse, a few meters away from violent repeat offenders on bail. I’ve napped on the deck of a tugboat sailing the St. Lawrence River. I’ve napped on a park bench in downtown Madrid, in the movie theatre in Jackson Square, in New York’s Grand Central Station, in an army Porta-Pottie, and during a wedding (not mine!).

The only place I don’t like napping is on airplanes. The air is dry, the engine noise distracting and the seats cramped. But the main problem with sleeping on planes is that it’s usually too bright, even if you slide the little window blind down. There are those little black eye-masks to block the light, true, but to me they feel too much like a blindfold for a firing squad. And then if you do manage to start to fall asleep on a plane, your head starts to fall to one side, which wakes you up. There are special pillows that wrap around the back and sides of your neck to stabilize it, but these feel weird too, like trying to sleep while wearing a mini-Daschund as a scarf.

Other than in planes, I’m man enough to nap almost everywhere. Someday, I’d like to test my toughness by napping while rock-climbing, playing guitar outside the Dundurn beer store or cooking an omelet.
Occasionally, I’ll daydream of being drafted as a professional athlete into the N.E.N.A. (National Extreme Napping Association).

I also get joy from the naps of others. When my sons were younger, until the age of three or so, we used to make them take naps every afternoon. My wife and I so cherished those quiet moments; our progeny unconscious and locked in a wooden cage; while looking so cute, mainly because he is at that moment unable to scream, poop, break, throw, etc. For that blessed hour or two, my wife and I had a chance to clean, fix, launder, apologize to the neighbours, etc. Sometimes, when we were lucky, the kid would nap extra-long and we’d have time to nap too.

We enjoyed the kids sleeping in the day so much that we made them nap whether they wanted to or not. “He is going to nap, damn it,” I would say, “even if we have to hire a professional hypnotist.”

I remember one desperate afternoon, with a child refusing to nap, when I raised the idea of duct-taping his eyelids shut. My wife did not like this plan. Using duct tape to fasten shut an insomniac child’s eyes, she argued, was cruel and dangerous. I wasn’t 100% convinced, but I still tossed aside the roll of duct tape. I suggested a reasonable compromise: using some Spiderman-brand Band-Aids on his eyelids – after all, he’s a huge Spidey fan – but my wife was all critical and nit-picky about that idea too. She ended up taking him to our bed to try again to nap, while I ended up on the sofa, grumpily napping alone.

Let’s discuss nap theory. There are, according to sleepologists, four distinct stages to a typical nap session by an individual.

The first issue is body placement. A successful napping strategy must determine whether napping is to begin while the subject is lying on the back, the right side, the belly or the left side. Once initial placement has been determined and carried out, adjust your body for additional comfort, sliding a hip a bit to one side, for example, or raising a hand from the side to the top of the belly.

When physical comfort has been achieved, the napper then moves on to mental adjustment, which consists of emptying your mind of aggravation. For example: that important issue at work that might turn into a disaster? Let all thoughts of it drift away. And those other stressful issues? Let them sink out of sight, out of your indifferent mind. Those bad memories from a long time ago that still haunt you? Just let them all dissolve in the random ideas and odd images of REM sleep sneaking up on you, flying you far away from this world, to someplace new, maze-like and so familiar …

The third stage of napping is dreaming. The subject of nap-dreams is a matter of personal choice. I’m fond of dreams in which I teach hermit crabs to make stained-glass windows for my car. You can even dream about doing things you’re not allowed to do in real life. Crime, illicit sex, putting recyclable stuff into the regular garbage can – in the world of dreams, all debauchery and sin is forgiven.

However, be careful. If napping in public, intense sex-dreams are not advisable, especially if you have a tendency to writhe suggestively in your sleep while groaning, “Oh, baby, smear me with butter.”
The fourth stage of proper nappery is the return to reality. After a solid snoozing session of, say 20 to 30 minutes, you should wake up, to avoid a groggy-making nap overdose. On waking, it is advisable to stretch a bit, squinting your eyes and frowning. A quiet groan or sigh is optional. Then, while getting up, start looking forward to your next nap – which should never be too far away.

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