The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

May 24, 2013

Afternoon nap can reverse burnout from information overload

POINT BLANK: By John Blankenship
The Register-Herald

— Are you feeling burned out before supper time? Do you get tired of staring at the computer screen while your eyelids droop?

Or are spring garden chores wearing you out? Maybe the yard work is getting you down?

Well, take a snooze.

That’s right. According to Harvard neurologists, taking an afternoon nap can reverse burnout from information overload and improve your mental and physical prowess.

A 30-minute nap can raise your performance levels.

And a one-hour snooze can restore your concentration to peak performance.

I start feeling fatigued at about 1:30 p.m. That’s when my brain starts telling me I need some down time to allow the data already there to be processed.

I usually take a nap from about 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The time-out snooze readies my mind for new knowledge and mental activity.

After all, it’s normal to feel sluggish in the afternoon, even if you don’t eat a heavy lunch. The best pick-me-up is still the power nap.

A daily catnap is also a more effective way to catch up on much-needed rest than sleeping in or snoozing longer on weekends.

For optimum benefits, though, it’s important to take a nap at about the same time every day, preferably in the afternoon, or eight hours after you wake up.

Some people might be rejuvenated by just closing their eyes and relaxing, but it just doesn’t quite do the job for me.

Increasingly, I hear stories about corporations encouraging their employees to catch a few Z’s during their lunch hour, or even allow workers to take a 30-minute nap break at the office (probably like in the conference room where you can stretch out).

Studies have proved that taking an afternoon siesta causes a significant drop in blood pressure. That stands to reason; nobody can yell at you if they can’t find you.

So if you feel like taking a short siesta when the boss is out of town, you might give it a try. But don’t doze for more than 30 minutes to an hour, or you’ll slip into a deep sleep and feel groggy when you wake.

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Afternoon power naps apparently are the craze in both New York and L.A. That’s because an increasing number of Americans admit to experiencing workplace fatigue.

Not surprising, considering that most of us try to balance the demands of career with busy lifestyles that include family, friends, community, church and civic programs. And when something has to give, it usually ends up being sleep.

As a result, the majority of Americans are sleep deprived, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) in Washington, D.C.

A recent study by the NSF reports that 56 percent of working adults experience significant drowsiness during working hours. Research data revealed that adults, on average, sleep for six hours and 58 minutes per night during the work week — about an hour less than the eight hours recommended by sleep experts.

Consequently, the NSF reports that production losses caused by fatigued workers cost companies an estimated $18 billion yearly.

So you may wonder who’s sleeping on the job. Well, as it turns out, nearly everyone. Employees have been sleeping on the job since the beginning of time — at their desks, in their cars, in restrooms, anywhere out of view of their bosses (who occasionally manage to work in 20 winks behind closed office doors).

Which reminds me: A couple of years ago, I happened to walk into the office of a fellow journalist who was fast asleep behind his desk with the air conditioner turned up full blast.

But it was only a few minutes until quitting time, and I thought: What the heck? He never mentioned it afterward and neither did I, although I think he was irate about being disturbed from his afternoon slumbers.

Some educators also suffer from mid-afternoon drowsiness. I can recall a high school history class getting particularly quiet so the teacher would fall asleep. As soon as he did, we climbed out the windows.

I’ve never fallen asleep on the job that I can remember. But I once nodded off while a student was giving a report — it was on sleeping disorders.

I quickly rebounded, though. I woke up at the end of the presentation and commended the young man for a splendid job.

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Top of the morning!

— Blankenship is a columnist for The Register-Herald. E-mail: