Nap time is a brilliant idea, but it’s wasted on those that don’t want to use it. We give nap time to hyperactive children who at best pretend to sleep and at worst use it as an excuse to be even louder. Meanwhile, adults drag themselves through early morning obligations fueled mostly by caffeine and a crippling fear of being fired or expelled. Between cramming for tests and working late shifts, young adults need naps more than other people. Yet not only do our schedules prevent us from napping, but it seems that sleeping in general has become a sign of weakness.
This brings us to the “siesta.” “Siesta” is the Spanish word for nap and refers specifically to the Spanish tradition of taking a two- to three-hour nap after lunch. We need to bring this tradition to America. We need to give our bodies the respect they deserve and create more opportunities for sleep throughout the day so that we can have a healthier, happier populous.
Despite being one of the few things that pretty much every living creature does, scientists don’t really know why we need to sleep. We know that sleeping well can have health benefits, and that not sleeping is dangerous. What scientists can’t agree on is what exactly happens during sleep that makes it so necessary for life. To further complicate things, there are people like Thai Ngoc, who told Vietnamese news outlet Thanh Nien that he hasn’t slept in over 30 years. This corroborates the finding of a study from the University of California, San Francisco in 2009, which discovered a gene mutation that allows people to sleep less than two hours a night with no ill effects.
With all of the mystery surrounding sleep, it’s no wonder that many people disregard it so frequently. Sleep deprivation has become something to take pride in. Notable public figures have bragged about their insomniac habits. From Bill Clinton, who recounted being told by his professor that “great men require less sleep,” to House of Cards’ protagonist Frank Underwood who said that he has “always loathed the necessity of sleep... Like death, it puts even the most powerful men on their backs.” Shelby Harris, the director of behavioral sleep medicine at the Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, told Everyday Health, “It’s trendy not to sleep…The thing I hear all the time is that ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead.’”
This is so widespread that we don’t blink when we hear that someone we know hasn’t been sleeping. Yet the symptoms that can result from sleep deprivation should alarm everyone. A 2005 article, “Neurocognitive Consequences of Sleep Deprivation,” published in the journal Seminars in Neurology, lists possible side effects from not sleeping enough: increased accidents, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and decreased mental acuity. That article also shows that sleep deprivation is a self-perpetuating cycle: “Sleep-deprived people seem to be especially prone to poor judgment when it comes to assessing what lack of sleep is doing to them.”
While it’s well known that sleep is necessary to good health, there isn’t any progress being made towards making it easier for people to find time to sleep. We can do things like discourage late night studying and tell people to go to bed earlier, but this sentiment falls into the same category as binge drinking and eating dining hall food: Everyone knows that it’s unhealthy, but it’s still outrageously common. What we need to do is start building schedules around sleep. Treat sleep like going to the gym, like something for which we take time out of our day in the interest of staying healthy.
This does mean that we will have to sleep during the day, which could be seen as a barrier to being productive. But I, for one, am tired of being tired, and giving people more socially acceptable times to sleep will have massive benefits on our health and our mood. Of course, changing the world’s sleep schedule isn’t something that will happen overnight. But the greatest changes begin with a small step. It’s time to wake up and realize that the only thing standing between us and adequate sleep is our willingness to nap.