Daytime siesta idea may indeed have merit


POSTED: Saturday, August 01, 2009

Back in 2000—before the recession, TARP and bailouts, before record unemployment in the state, falling revenues and skyrocketing foreclosures, before Lingle vs. public employees made the daily fight card—an off-the-wall state senator who was later elected an off-the-wall City Councilman proposed a bill that made him one of the most mocked politicians of the day.

The bill would have authorized state workers to sleep on the job during two 10-minute breaks a day.

Respites were not to be brief versions of the unpaid furloughs Gov. Linda Lingle wants today, but were intended to allow workers “;to relax, refresh and rejuvenate”; so as to “;build productivity and efficiency,”; he explained.

I can think of a couple of reasons why Rod Tam ran the idea up the flag pole: making nice with public workers and genuine belief in the benefits of napping.

Whatever, Tam was clueless about the reaction his proposal would get. Public workers were already tagged as lazy, warranted or not, so for Tam to attempt to license snoozing at their desks was asking for a swift kick.

See, where in other countries, breaking for a midday siesta is the sensible norm, in America, napping is a sin against the work ethic. People who get some light sleep during the day are looked upon as either slothful or old and feeble.

A national survey appears to support those notions, finding that more men and women over 80 years old, and the poor and unemployed were likely to say they took naps. But the survey also found that similar percentages of people who earned more than $100,000 a year and those who took home $30,000 to $49,000 were nappers. The survey showed that both men and women 49 and younger took equal opportunities for 40 winks.

What to make of this information?

Well, the survey didn't exactly define a nap, whether respondents thought that nodding off during the ride home on a bus or while languishing in the La-Z-Boy in front of the TV constituted a nap, or that napping meant an actual lie-down with pillow or sofa cushion tucked under their heads.

I suspect the latter because of the embarrassment connected with catching some inadvertent Zs while the sun's up. Even the director of the Pew Research Center which did the survey hedged, admitting that if you asked his children if he fell asleep in an easy chair with a newspaper in his lap, they say he dozed, but if you asked him, his answer is no.

Experts at the National Sleep Foundation say short naps are OK, that a little shut-eye “;provides significant benefit for improved alertness and performance.”; The foundation also notes that few mammals separate their day into awake and asleep periods as humans do. Most others—dogs, horses, pigs—sleep when tired and come around when not.

The survey also found that people worried about finances had trouble sleeping at night, which led some of them to nap.

If so, the majority of island residents could use some shut-eye. Could it be (gulp) that Tam was on to something?


Cynthia Oi can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).