Friday, October 19, 2007

Review: Take a Nap! Change your life.

Sleep is critically important, and Americans are frequently sleep deprived. I know this not just from the scientific studies that are frequently published, but from personal experience --- I started college as a "normally smart" student, but at the end of four years, I was doing far better than I expected --- most of my cohorts regularly pulled all nighters to study for exams while I got myself a good night's sleep and ended up doing better (there's an argument that maybe they were all drunk on alcohol, but since I was studying computer science the number of party animals I could compare myself with was limited). My long term memory was better, and hence I did better.

Sara Mednick's thesis in this book is that humans naturally have bi-phasic sleep. In other words, left to ourselves, we'll get in two sleep cycles in a day, one long one at night, and one shorter one at mid-day. The evidence she marshals to convince us that napping is natural and good for us is considerable: the studies basically show that the increased alertness, memory, and learning are considerable after the nap, quite possibly more than making up for the lost time spent napping. These studies are convincing, but in her presentation at Google, she reminded us that sleep is a very young science --- there is also some evidence that exercise can also result in the same increase in productivity, so we don't know if it's the state change in your head that causes the increase in mental alertness, or whether sleep itself does something.

There are a few gimmicks in this book, one of which is the sleep wheel on the cover. You turn it to when you woke up this morning, and it tells you when to sleep for an optimum mix of stage 1 sleep, stage 2, sleep, and deep, slow wave sleep, with a reminer of what each stage does. Scattered throughout the book are also a bunch of case studies of how people use napping (and what kind of napping is used) to change their lives for the better.

I did ask a question when Sara visited, which was whether napping was recommended for people with sleep apnea. Apparently, no studies of napping for people with apnea have been done, so it might even be dangerous for people with apneas. Such a young science that even I can ask unanswered questions! Clearly, more funding is needed for this.

Obviously, the ultimate test of this book is whether or not it works. And unfortunately, I can't tell you. I work in a fantastic environment by most standards, but privacy and enough time to sleep is definitely not one of them. This would be a worthwhile experiment for those who are self-employed, or who have offices with doors they can close. Hm... Maybe Microsoft engineers can make this experiment. But seriously though, for athletes, the benefits of napping are not in doubt whatsoever.

Recommended with the above caveats.
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