I spent my first semester of college abroad: four months in a quaint little town on a wind-swept plateau of central Spain.
In the spring of 2001, I meandered the cobblestone streets of none other than Burgos. Founded in 884, its call-to-fame was the “Cathedral of Saint Mary,” a divine structure that barely anyone knew about.
Spain introduced me to siesta — the midday nap that my Spanish peers succumbed to after lunch. In sleepy Burgos, siesta wasn’t only a way of life. It was woven into the very fabric of its culture and society, as revered by Spaniards as bullfighting, flamenco dancing and not tipping their waiters.
I thought I’d jump on that bandwagon! So every day at 3 pm, I’d shut my eyes and count sheep ’til kingdom come. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t take a midday nap to save my life!
In hindsight, I resisted the idea of siesta because it made me feel like a lazy bastard. After all, why had I traveled 3,500 miles across the Atlantic for? To betray that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by wasting away hours of sleep, no less in the middle of the day?
The world was my oyster. To sleep was a dishonor to its pure, aphrodisiacal essence.
I’ll sleep when I die, I told myself. Sleeping can wait.
Now that I’m in my thirties (and tired as fuck), I can see how failing to jump on the siesta bandwagon when I had the chance was a total dick-move.
This realization could not have been more amplified at the In-N-Out drive-thru when I found myself in a heated exchange with the person on the other end of the intercom. (Why couldn’t she get my order right, gawdamnit!) I was ill-tempered and short-fused due to my afternoon grogginess. Rather than napping to “diffuse the short-fuse,” somehow I decided that it would better to hop in the car, set a course for In-N-Out and deal with my mood swings by feeding it a burger combo.
In their sleep study, “Siestas of Health Adults and Coronary Mortality in the General Population,” authors Naska et al. found that “the siesta habit [accounts for] a 37-percent reduction in coronary mortality, possibly due to reduced cardiovascular stress mediated by daytime sleep.”1 And there I was, losing my shit at the drive-thru, on the verge of injecting cardiovascular pathogens into my bloodstream rather than succumbing to sleep to improve my circulatory system and thus live longer.
But here’s the real zinger: according to sleep scientist, Matt Walker, sleep deprivation in men can lead to some major balls-shrinkage.
“I would like to start with testicles,” Walker said kicking-off his Ted Talk presentation, “Sleep is your superpower.” He goes on to say that men who sleep five hours a night have significantly smaller testicles than those who sleep seven hours or more.
How could Matt Walker expect me to recover from this statement? How can I not, going forward, picture a pair of testicles the size of pinto beans, cradled by a small scrotum, whenever a man gives me attitude as a direct result of his sleep deprivation?
It seems like every day I am under the attack of tiny balls. It’s hard to function in this constant state of unrest.
Luckily, some further insight into this subject has led me to an auspicious conclusion. Before I can dispense this, dear reader, we should begin by examining why sleep deprivation is even “a thing” to begin with.
More than 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder. And mental fatigue is one of the major root causes. Stress, anxiety, hopelessness, lack of motivation. The list goes on and on. In a nutshell, depression and its cronies are keeping you from taking that magnificent afternoon nap that the likes of Salvador Dali and Leonardo Da Vinci were known to take in their heydays. Oh, and let’s throw a COVID wrench into this sad pot of depression stew. We now have an exponential equation to solve: depression to the tenth power. (Your balls shrinking yet?)
You might be thinking, Wow, this all sounds exhausting! My mind is officially tired. And now that it’s tired, I can just shut it off and go to sleep. Right?
I’m glad you asked.
Studies have shown that anxiety and insomnia are like two peas in a pod, including this study from The American Institute of Stress. They found that “the act of falling asleep may actually become harder due to the body’s sense of worry or fear.”
In other words, anxiety cock-blocks the assimilation of melatonin in your body. It’s like the bouncers at Spearmint Rhino guarding the gates to a hinterland of naked women (if that’s your thing.) Melatonin walks up to the doors with a bashful swing in its step. The bouncer says, “Hold up, hold up. Where do you think you’re going?”
Perhaps we’ve all been there before, in the middle of the night, studying the cracks in the ceiling, scrolling through our Instagram feed, popping melatonin pills like Tic Tacs. Something — anything — to escape the mire of our thoughts.
Now, it’s important to note that taking naps won’t rid you of your anxieties. To fix this, you’ll need to dig deeper and embark upon a different journey.
Be that as it may, it’s not impossible to override anxiety at times, especially when it stands in the way of your much-needed beauty sleep.
Meditation, for one, can help declutter your mind and bring you to a calm state. But getting here isn’t always a walk in the park. Trying to focus as your thoughts rampage like monkeys fighting over a banana can be a tall order. Scary, even.
Then again, not impossible.
The following exercise helps me clear my mind (and I encourage you to give it a try.)
I close my eyes, focus on my breath and picture the furniture in my mind slowly begin to clear the room. I realize that I didn’t need that wingback chair in my “reading corner,” which I never visit because I like to read in bed. I imagine Marie Kondo groping for those things in my mind that don’t spark any joy whatsoever. I picture her cute little self giggling Harajuku-style as she removes what I’ve been hoarding over the past five, ten, fifteen years.
Sayonara bitches! I’m cleaning house!
Some of my friends give me grief over this. They don’t have time to engage in deep-breathing as a way to slow their heart rates, which has been proven to not only prepare them for sleep but to prolong their lives as well.
I fight back with my Nap Manifesto.
I tell them, “I’m not asking you to go to bed early or workout like a fiend so that you’re even more tired at the end of the day, or to hit-up the Vitamin Shoppe and buy every kind of sleep aid that’s on the shelves.
“What I’m asking is that you find some quiet time in the afternoon — as little as ten minutes — to undermine everything that’s happening to you at that moment.
“And to finally sleep.”
Napping was a prerequisite for our coming-of-age years. We used to do this as toddlers in our cribs and in the car seat. More importantly, it ensured collective peace and sanity in the household. When Baby didn’t nap, dear God, deliver us from Evil! Parents braced themselves for noodles pasted on the walls and crayons drowned in the toilet.
Other friends argue that a siesta model is totally unbecoming of a market economy. Capitalism, they say, is the reason they can’t doze off between the hours of 2 and 5 in the afternoon.
The American business owner isn’t scratching his butt crack while staring at the overhead clock, waiting for the big hand to strike the fourteenth hour so that he could run home and hit the Lazyboy. He doesn’t consider the likelihood that his business might continue to thrive and remain unscathed even after closing its doors in the middle of the day.
Instead, he considers maximum profit, losing customers to the competition and the stigma of laziness. It’s not like he has loyal customers who are willing to work around his siesta schedule. He doesn’t even consider that, at 2 pm, most of his customers are not coming to his shop anyway. They’re in their cubicles, scratching their butt cracks, lusting for thirty minutes of peaceful sleep so that they can get back to editing their spreadsheets without hating their lives.
In countries like Spain and Croatia, the business owner doesn’t give two buckets of cow shit whether or not you rely on their business to carry on the rest of your day. There seems to be a counterintuitive approach to profit: these Spanish and Croatian business owners will better assist you by not hating you because you are no threat to their recharge-time. And you, in turn, will keep finding your way to their shops because wasn’t that shoe cobbler in Dubrovnik ever so lovely?
Look, the tech industry knows what I’m talking about. (I’m looking at you, Google, and your trippy-looking sleep pods!) They understand that a rested workforce is a productive one. And in a world that’s increasingly work-from-home oriented due to COVID-19, your 30-minute commute, now a thing of the past, has become your don’t-fuck-with-my-thirty-minutes-of-nap time.
Let’s forget productivity, for once. What’s really at stake is your mental wellbeing. Your ability to excel in the workplace of Life. Your capacity to be delightful to others.
As Matt Walker put it, “Sleep is a non-negotiable, biological necessity.” I mean, think about that. (Or don’t if it’ll keep you from sleeping.)
Lastly, I say to the pessimist in you: imagine that Life’s an aggressive bull that’s constantly charging at you. It has X-Ray vision and therefore can see the red in the blood flowing through your veins.
When it charges at you, be the fucking matador.
Say Ole! and catch some serious ZZZs.