Golden Slumber

A famous artist had come to speak to employees of the art museum, and after the engaging slide presentation in the auditorium, my boss turned around and hissed, “Can you believe someone was sleeping during that? I heard SNORING!”

I agreed, and breathed a sigh of relief that I hadn’t been caught.

Any new parent can attest that sleep is a precious and scarce commodity. Between the middle-of the-night feedings, diaper changes and cries for attention, it’s tough to secure a solid stretch of shuteye. And even when the little ones start sleeping through the night, the motherhood workload – dishes, laundry, cleaning, bill-paying — keeps most moms awake until the wee hours.

When I was working outside the home and still birthing babies, I was constantly sleep-deprived. I often shut my office door and put my head on my desk for a 20-minute cat-nap or found myself drifting off during meetings in warm conference rooms.

At home, I would steal a few minutes of sleep whenever I could – for instance, while my daughter watched The Artistocats for the 347th time.

I believed that as my children aged, I would get more sleep. However, I found that parenting teens is even tougher on the body. Teens are constitutionally programmed to keep un-Godly hours, and I can’t crawl into bed until my “babies” – now ages 19, 17, 15 and 12 — are snuggled into theirs.

What’s more, like most parents, I can’t with clear conscience sleep in past noon as the kids do. So, I end up burning the candle at both ends.

We all know that sleep is important. Recent research has proved that lack of sufficient shut-eye can hinder memory, metabolism, safety, pleasant moods and cardiovascular health.

And although we know that eight hours of sleep each night is optimal, about one third of all working adults in the U.S. (some 41 million people) report that they generally sleep for six hours or less, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As an article in the Harvard Health Watch points out, “While more research is needed to explore the links between chronic sleep loss and health, it’s safe to say that sleep is too important to shortchange.”

In a five-year study (1999-2004) conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, some 40 percent of adults reported that grogginess gets in the way of effectiveness during the day several times a month.

So for those who can’t get enough at night, naps are the best solution for maintaining health and sanity.

One of my favorite venues is the movie theater. With the dim lights, cushy seats, salty snacks and 90 straight minutes of escape, I’ve taken some wonderful cinematic naps. This catch-up method has failed me only once, when I escorted six middle-school boys to a late-night blockbuster. I slipped into a different film at the multiplex, and when I awoke, realized I had missed seven phone calls (my cell was of course on “vibrate”) alerting me that the boys’ movie had ended 30 minutes before mine.

Now, the rec-room couch has become my strongest ally. In fact, my reaction has become a bit Pavlovian: if I stretch out on the coach and pull a fuzzy blanket over me, you can bet I’ll start snoring within a half an hour.

Late on weekend nights, my husband and I might rent an On Demand movie or turn on SNL, and before I know it, one of my sons is shaking my shoulder to prove he made it home before his curfew.

Often, I’ll slip back into sleep, only to wake up at 3 am with a fitness-machine Infomercial droning on. I’ll drag my tail upstairs, wash up, crawl into bed and then lie awake for an hour, trying to drift back into dreamland.

For me, napping has become a critical parenting tool. So, you can imagine my feeling of vindication when I ran across a New York Times article a few weeks back, which stated that interrupted sleep is not all that harmful.

While many experts still claim that eight hours of sleep is critical to good health and happiness, some researchers have discovered that such solid blocks of slumber aren’t historically natural. This article points out that in China, India and Spain (we’ve all heard of post-lunch “siestas”), daytime napping – even on the job – is socially acceptable.

A Virginia Tech history professor found several examples indicating that centuries ago, eight straight hours was uncommon. For example, in the ancient literary tome Canterbury Tales, a character returns to bed following her “firste sleep,” while a French physician in the 1500s claimed that laborers wanting more children made love after their “first sleep.”

This professor, A. Roger Ekirch, suggests that we take the pressure off ourselves for the eight-hour stretch, and that if we wake in the middle of the night – either because of sleep problems or late-arriving teens – we should embrace this time for “self-reflection, getting a jump on the day or an amorous activity,” to quote the New York Times writer, David K. Randall.

And, thankfully, it turns out that napping is not a bad way to catch up. Randall states that “a number of recent studies suggest that any deep sleep — whether in an eight-hour block or a 30-minute nap — primes our brains to function at a higher level, letting us come up with better ideas, find solutions to puzzles more quickly, identify patterns faster and recall information more accurately.”

In fact, the article continues, researchers for the University of Pennsylvania, in a study financed by NASA, learned that naps as short as 24 minutes could improve “cognitive performance.” The New York Times article quotes several other studies that prove the same.

As such, programmers at Google, Army recruits and players on the Texas Rangers all have their bosses’ permission to nap briefly while on the clock.

I’m thrilled to learn that my short nights and frequent naps may become socially acceptable and probably won’t lead to an early demise. So, I’m giving myself permission to continue “waiting up” on that comfy couch until I no longer have teens in the house.

-Linda Williams Rorem, 8 October 2012
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Comments

  1. Carolyn B. says:

    I’ve made it all the way to the end of only a handful of movies during the past nineteen years (it gets to the point of ‘Why bother!’). Glad to know I’m not the only one. Here’s to grabbing those Z’s wherever we can!

    • Thanks for the support of cinematic naps, Carolyn! I think my best one was during Toy Story, with the entire Williams and Rorem clan together at the theatre on Maple. Embarrassing, but true.

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