Sleep Experts Call for Siestas

ByABC News

N E W   Y O R K, Oct. 31, 2001 -- Imagine a long leisurely lunch with a nap instead of a cold sandwich in front of your computer.

"It makes absolute sense," said Dr. James Parish, medical director for the Sleep Disorder Center of the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. "Sleep research has recently and repeatedly shown us what we have known for a long time and that is that sleep deprivation is an epidemic in this country."

A new global Internet survey by the U.K.-based Sleep Council, a non-profit organization that advocates more sleep, calls for implementation of the siesta. The survey, released Sunday, asked peoplewhen they felt most alert and productive. Of 12,000 respondents, mostly from the United States and Europe, 41 percent said in the morning, while 38 percent said they hit felt most alert in the evening.

"The implication is that the majority are not fully alert in the middle of the day — the traditional time for a siesta in hot countries," sleep expert Chris Idzikowski, a professor at Surrey University who conducted the two-year sleep study, told Reuters.

A Sleep Deprived Nation

Sleep deprivation usually manifests itself in feeling especially drained in the afternoon, say sleep experts. It's the time of day when serotonin and dopamine levels, which regulate mood, sleep and emotion, naturally dip. And if you are already sleepy, this dip is even more dramatic.

"This feeling of drowsiness is sometimes associated with the mid-day meal," said Dr. Michael Smolensky, author of The Body Clock Guide to Better Health and professor of environmental physiology at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston. "But it really has a lot more to do with natural changes in the brain at this time in the afternoon. The body clock naturally governs itself and it includes this natural dip in the afternoon."

Many European countries and others with hot climates have long implemented an afternoon down time, or siesta, when stores close, business shut down and residents go home for a nap, or take a long rest at a cafe or restaurant.

Experts say that with a rest during the afternoon hours when the serotoninergic system in a person's brain slows, workers might perform better at their jobs, and even be more safe.

"What we see in children and adults with this loss of alertness is also a loss of hand/eye coordination in the afternoon," Smolensky said. "Frankly, I sometimes take a short power nap in the afternoon."Another way to feel refreshed in the afternoon, if you are not one who naps, is to take a rest, walk around the block, sit on a park bench, Smolensky says.

Less Sleep, More Bragging

"[Americans] like to brag about how little sleep they need, almost as if they are bragging about how many cars we own," said Dr. Phyllis Zee, director of Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Sleep Disorder Center. "We say we can get away with something like six hours of sleep. But, that's not enough sleep. Most people need eight hours of sleep. This is why we feel tired in the afternoon and run down."

The Council's study suggests that workers allowed to follow their natural sleeping habits and rhythms would benefit employers by expanding working hours and production.

"It's a very cultural thing for Americans to push themselves during the day," said Zee. "With an economy that moves and changes quickly and rapidly, the harder you work and the longer hours you put in, you think you are more productive. But it reaches a point when you are sleep deprived, then you are just going to make mistakes and that productivity you perceive won't matter."

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