The nap: 20 minutes to regenerate

Sleeping after lunch: a dream… unthinkable for most active people. Too bad, because the specialists constantly extol the merits of this break: napping accelerates memory and frees creativity.


Being a sleeper, Mireille, 36, loves it. “I like the torpor that precedes the nap. I perceive the sun’s rays through the glass, I take a blanket and there I feel my body absorbed by the heat. I listen to it, I let it go. Sometimes I spend most of my time falling asleep. But it’s stolen time that I like to see pass … »
Since the late 1990s, psychologist Bill Anthony, director of the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Harvard University, has been studying the benefits of this anti-stress cut. It would promote memorization and, through a refurbishment of the brain, allow for the assimilation of new data. Other studies suggest that, thanks to these twenty minutes of rest, intellectual performance would increase by 20%! And its fervent defenders point out that it unleashes creativity, given the list of geniuses who adopted it: Isaac Newton, Archimedes, Victor Hugo, André Gide… How does it work? Mystery! In the eyes of scientists, its mechanisms are still poorly understood.

An inescapable weakness

The nap (sieste in French, from the Latin sexta, or the sixth hour of the day) refers to a rest time taken after lunch. According to Michel Tiberge, a neurologist at the Toulouse Sleep Centre, “human beings are genetically programmed to tend to fall asleep around 14-15 hours.” At this key hour, the attention drops, the eyelids blink, the head staggers. Some will sting, others will not remember what they have just read, but this small weakness, even if one does not consciously perceive it, is inescapable.

“This moment corresponds to a peak of road accidents,” warns Anne-Marie Malabre, a biologist at the Palace of Discovery and curator of the exhibition “Sleep, an art of living”. “But if this state depends on our circadian clock (over twenty-four hours), it is not related to any physiological phenomenon such as those recorded before night’s sleep, such as the drop in body temperature.” Even if a meal that is too rich, a physical expense or the effect of heat destabilizes the body and can accentuate this bar.

Loving the nap, a sign of maturity

“Doctors suggest that this hypovigilance is a remnant of the infant’s polyphasic sleep,” explains the biologist. Indeed, the baby sleeps in episodes, day or night. As the months go by, the phases of daytime sleep decrease, but the early afternoon phase (the nap!) is the last to disappear, between the ages of 4 and 6.

Fighting drowsiness with a lot of coffee? That’s going against nature, the brain will repeat its signal later. “Human beings have “sleep doors” of one to two minutes every hour and a half to two hours. It’s an archaic rhythm that goes back to our origins,” says Michel Tiberge. Indeed, in order not to expose himself to his predators, prehistoric man slept little but often. More recently, Leonardo da Vinci practiced polyphasic sleep in his own way: a quarter of an hour every two hours… as solo racing navigators do today. But napping doesn’t necessarily say you sleep, the key is to get to regenerate. Sitting with your head on the desk or lying in the grass, with shutters closed or teased by the sun.
Failing to follow the athletic rhythm of a Leonardo da Vinci, the ideal is to give yourself a rest of twenty to thirty minutes around 2 p.m. To exceed this duration, which corresponds to the first two “light” stages of slow sleep, is to begin a cycle of ninety minutes and to reduce the chances of a restful night. And falling asleep around 5 p.m. may delay the night’s sleep. It is also for this reason that napping is not recommended for insomniacs, who should get tired during the day to sleep at night. As for waking up feeling drowsy, it means that one had already gone into deep sleep. This “royal” nap would therefore be banned, except to recover from a sleepless night, jet lag or any other sleep debt.

But when you’re a big sleeper, just twenty minutes is a feat. So when Anna, 40, goes to bed on the weekend after lunch, she falls into Morpheus’s arms for two hours: “A drama! And I do ten-hour nights! Sleeping is a real pleasure, a need. If the amount of sleep we need is passed down through the generations, napping remains an individual inclination, whether you are male or female, southern or northern. This blessed parenthesis that allows us to connect to our body in order to leave it better for a small sleep would also be a sign of maturity, according to Lucille Garma, neuropsychiatrist at the hospital of the Pitié-Salpêtrière, in Paris. “You become an adult when you like to take a nap. When we were a kid, we were forced to do it. And in adolescence, you prefer to go to bed late and get up late. However, abusing it can, on the contrary, signal a regression, such as that of the depressive who buries his anxieties under the pillow to silence them.

Agreeing to let go

Joining one’s bed in the afternoon… a pleasure also conducive to cuddling or a simple break for two, as Anna says: “With my friend, it’s a moment we wait. We love those minutes when we find ourselves next to each other, totally available in this time that “floats”. However, getting in tune with your spouse is not always lived with good grace. “When my husband takes a nap, I’m annoyed,” says Carole, 34. I feel like I’m taking his last breath off if I keep him awake! »

To die of exhaustion, or die sleeping during the day? Aren’t Hypnos, the god of sleep, and Thanatos, the god of Death, brothers? “Sleeping is always going to the unknown,” observes Anne-Marie Malabre. “Napping” means accepting to lose control of one’s actions and thoughts; in the middle of the day, you have to give up being a living force when you are not an elderly person and no longer a baby. It’s not easy to drop the moorings for a dreamlike journey, when the world is restless around you…

Flash nap: how to recover in 2 minutes

Those who can’t get off the hook, those who tend to sleep too long, and anyone who wants to recover in a flash can learn the flash nap. By training every day, we go from ten minutes to two-three minutes of rest, and we can turn a simple relaxation without sleep into a restorative micrododo!

– Staging: phone on messaging, dim light, possibly earplugs, eye blindfold and “Do not disturb” sign. Loosen tie, belt, buttons, take off your shoes and find the position (sitting or elongated) that allows you to relax your back, neck, limbs

– Immersion: close your eyes, exhale slowly, yawn at will. Release and mentally visualize all parts of your body, feel their warmth, their gravity. Let nice images and colors come. Closed eyelids, operate circles with your eyes, one way and the other, then let them go up… if you’re not already asleep

– Awakening: Try to schedule the time mentally. Inhale deeply by gently moving your fingers, hands and feet. Inhale again by stretching. Open your eyes, observe your surroundings and fix a distant and close detail to find the visual accommodation. Finally, smile

– They will also help you: sophrology, qi gong, meditation… or individual “turbo-sieste” sessions with a little theory on breathing, circulation, muscle function, exercises (diaphragm musculation, energy gym, dynamic relaxation…) and practical tips for practicing “minute recovery”: 75 euros per hour or 680 euros per ten sessions.

The employee’s nap: a right or a dangerous gift?

Would you have to be your own boss to do it without sounding like a slob? In France, napping is often frowned upon, except in jobs with flexible hours (media, advertising…) or for which a lack of vigilance creates risks (emergency services, transport…). Yet, according to the U.S. National Commission on Sleep Disorders, such a rest would save fatigue that costs tens of billions of dollars.

Across the Atlantic, the message is being sent: the day after daylight saving time has even been decreed (unofficially) “National Nap Day in the Workplace”!
In Europe, a few initiatives have emerged: the municipality of Vechta, Germany, imposes twenty minutes of rest on its employees and encourages them to take classes on the art of napping.
In China, it is a constitutional right, and in Japan, some companies make a quarter of an hour of rest mandatory. A poisoned gift to better justify the pressure?


Article from the Magazine “Psychologies” By Agnès Rogelet

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