Practice makes perfect: practice napping

Last week, I introduced the concept of polyphasic sleep— that is, the cycle of sleeping for 20 to 30 minutes approximately every four hours — in the context of fitting rest into the average over-scheduled day of a typical Carnegie Mellon student. Detailing the efforts of a student in CMU’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity, I began to delve into the benefits of napping. So how is brother Helder Rocha holding up?

Continuing to deter lethargy and to retain a feeling of alertness and ability to perform academically, the SAE brother is going strong. So then, can we conclude that three to four hours of sleep is enough?

According to the National Sleep Foundation’s research report on “Adolescent Sleep Needs and Patterns,” the average young adult should get between 8.5 and 9.25 hours of sleep a night. However, the Washington, D.C.-based foundation discovered that the average total sleep time of 19-year-olds during the normal school week is only 7 hours 4 minutes. Perhaps I am biased, but this statistic cannot possibly hold true for CMU students.

“We see lots of students who are having problems sleeping,” said Kristine Cecchetti, the health educator in Carnegie Mellon’s Department of Health Services. She said that many students on our campus do not sleep enough, often staying awake for 24 to 36 hours at a time. When this happens, such negative side effects as mood swings, possible depression, stress, weight gain, and insomnia may occur. In fact, when students go for such long periods of time on such irregular sleep schedules, it becomes seemingly impossible to immediately begin sleeping for seven to eight hours a night, as one should in theory.

But what about consecutive naps? Cecchetti said that it “could be hard to return to normal patterns after [even voluntarily] turning to polyphasic sleep.” John Thase of the UPMC Clinical Neurological Sleep Center agrees that such a choppy sleep pattern associated with the Überman, or polyphasic, sleep schedule may not be healthy.

Normal sleep occurs in a series of phases. Apparently, the body must travel from phases one through four, then REM (Rapid Eye Movement), then two through four followed by REM, then this latter cycle repeated until awaking. However, the polyphasic sleep schedule theoretically allows one to leap from the first cycle to REM, which, although leading such participants as Rocha to feel awake and vigilant, may lack true health benefits. “If you don’t get through the cycle, you’re going to feel like you didn’t sleep at all,” according to UPMC. The negative benefits, such as the heightened tendency to make bad decisions, “will snowball,” said Thase.

It has been proven, however, that napping in itself provides many health benefits, such as post-nap alertness and greater ability to concentrate. The Tartan wants to help you nap more efficiently. Regardless of whether or not the uberman sleep schedule fits into your average Carnegie Mellon day, napping is definitely a must. Here are five quick tips on napping successfully – tips on the art of sleeping.

The first tip: Nap. Just do it. You know you’re tired; this is Carnegie Mellon. Just look at your glorious bed. See the silky (read: jersey cotton) sheets, the tousled caseless pillow… You crave it: Don’t lie.

Tip two: Nap consistently. Pick a time each day when napping fits into your schedule, even if it may mean pushing that “unnecessary” résumé aside.

A third tip: Set an alarm so that you won’t miss your Shakespeare class. Or your engineering lecture. Or to make sure you can check your e-mail for the 10th time daily – but who’s counting?

Fourth: Get comfortable. At times, napping may have to occur in an unconventional location. Put your comfort aside, and snuggle up to that keyboard in the cluster.

The fifth and final tip: Know that post-nap you will feel refreshed and rejuvenated. If rest calls, answer. No work is important enough to sacrifice your sleep and subsequently your health, which may begin to deteriorate with a lack of proper relaxation.

So will polyphasic sleeping be successful in the end? Perhaps Rocha and his SAE brothers will keep us updated. Until then, remember: Napping is golden.