Napping … the celebrity fans, the benefits, the practicalities

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“Thou art inclined to sleep. ‘Tis a good dullness,

And give it way. I know thou canst not choose.”

(Prospero to Miranda. The Tempest, William Shakespeare)

 

If you’re a Shakespeare buff, you might think the magician Prospero was casting one of his spells when urging his daughter to yield to a feeling of daytime drowsiness. I prefer to think he was introducing her to the benefits of a voluntary afternoon nap; and that Shakespeare himself was one of napping’s early fans. I’m a fan too; and my elder daughter, a doctor frequently working nights, thanks me for bequeathing her the ability to nap. My younger daughter, an actor, once played the above-mentioned Miranda on the stage of the RSC’s Swan Theatre in Stratford, in Return to the Forbidden Planet, a musical based on The Tempest. All in all, therefore, it was inevitable that I should become an advocate of napping.

Famous people who’ve advocated napping are legion. On my side of the Atlantic, Sir Winston Churchill was my favourite exponent, writing:

“Nature has not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts twenty minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.”

… and in the Cabinet War Rooms, Britain’s wartime nerve-centre under Horse Guards Parade , you can see the bed in which he slept for an hour every afternoon during WWII. A routine he’d learned in his twenties served him well.

A later British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was famous for sleeping only three or four hours during the night. What is less well known is that she “did not like to be disturbed around 3pm”.

Famous American nappers include former US Presidents JFK, LBJ, Reagan and Clinton; and General Stonewall Jackson.

And among military leaders, last but definitely not least in my list is one of the most famous nappers of all: Napoleon. He could apparently nap just before – and even during – a battle.

Why nap?

Many studies endorse Churchill’s statement. Napping has been shown to boost creativity, mood and productivity; and a one-hour nap improves alertness for up to ten hours.

Napping also reduces stress; and it’s recently been found that it reduces blood pressure, a subject on which I’ve recently blogged. Both effects reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, diabetes and excessive weight gain. A University of Düsseldorf study found the onset of daytime sleep had memory benefits that remain effective even after naps of only a few minutes.

Enlightened employers now recognise the benefits.

When to nap?

It depends on your schedule and your ‘chronotype’ i.e. whether you are a lark or an owl. In general, sometime between 1pm and 3pm is a period of maximum drowsiness for most people – irrespective of climate and of whether or not they’ve eaten; but we can be more precise thanks to a ‘nap wheel’ developed by sleep scientist Sara Mednick. It predicts that if you wake at seven, for example, the optimum time to nap would be around 2pm.

For how long?

It’s a case of ‘horses for courses.’ US science writer Jennifer Ackerman summarised:

  • A 20-minute snooze can enhance alertness
  • Limit the nap to 45 minutes if you need to spring into action on waking
  • A 60-minute nap improves alertness for 10 hours
  • Naps of 90-120 minutes encompass all stages of sleep and help clear the mind

A full sleep cycle typically lasts 90 – 100 minutes; two stages of light sleep, two of deep sleep, then an REM (rapid eye movement or dreaming) stage.

Waking from deep sleep (Stages 3 and 4) after 45-90 minutes can lead to sleep inertia. But after a nap including a full sleep cycle of 90-100 minutes, you wake refreshed from REM sleep.

Power naps and NASA

Not long ago, the US’s National Transportation Safety Board called for ‘controlled naps’ to be built into night shifts. Referring to a 1995 study from NASA, which he co-authored, NTSB member and fatigue expert Mark Rosekind said that a 26-minute nap would improve performance by 34% and alertness by 54%.

Some experts, however, feel 26 minutes is too long for a genuine ‘power-nap,’ as it risks going into deeper sleep. Naps of twenty minutes or less are mostly of light sleep; waking then, you’re more likely to feel refreshed.

Interrupted naps, scheduled naps

One of the most universal benefits is the effect on memory. Harvard Medical School research found that napping, especially if including REM sleep, was an effective tool for improving memory and learning ability.

Even better, you may get the benefits even if your nap is interrupted. A 2008 study showed that the onset of sleep may trigger active memory processes that remain effective even if sleep is limited to only a few minutes.

Even knowing that a nap is coming can actually reduce blood pressure, it is claimed; so simply scheduling a nap is a worthwhile stress-relief strategy.

The practicalities

Minimise noise and light, of course; and keep warm. (I personally can’t fall asleep if my feet are cold.)

Lie down: you’ll take 50% longer to fall asleep in a sitting position.

Finally, clear the mind of ‘chatter’ by focusing on your breathing. Learning to relax muscle-groups in turn, or meditation or visualisation techniques, can be helpful.

The conclusions

Churchill and JFK probably didn’t know much about sleep science; they just did what they knew worked for them. We’re not all national leaders, so we might face resistance. The solution: work for an enlightened employer – or for yourself – then find for yourself the benefits of an afternoon nap.

 

Want to know more?

Sara Mednick’s Nap Wheel: http://saramednick.com/htmls/book/napwheel.htm

‘The NASA Nap’: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-13232034

Jennifer Ackerman: http://www.amazon.com/Sex-Sleep-Eat-Drink-Dream/dp/0547085605

 

‘HACK THE CHOIR’ AT WATERSHED, BRISTOL. CHORAL EXCELLENCE, TECHNICAL WIZARDRY

The Bristol Proms is (or maybe are?) a relatively new thing. Thanks to this new thing, on 29 July at Bristol Old Vic I heard some wonderful choral harmony from the Erebus Ensemble.

Best of all, while there I heard about another event two days later, also featuring the name Erebus. So I was sold on that idea.

Under the general theme of “Pure Music, Pure Technology”, Watershed was to host an event called ‘Hack the Choir’. I’ll quote the flyers and website:

Hack the Choir micro residency

What happens to a performer’s heart rate when they sing?

How does a conductor communicate during a piece?

This two-day micro-residency will bring together Bristol Proms Artists in Residence The Erebus Ensemble with technologists David Haylock and Stefan Goodchild, for a series of open experiments in this space.

Drop in to Watershed bar during the two days to watch the adventure unfold, or join us at the public sharing, where you will hear about the process and experience early-stage experiments around how new technologies might augment the performance of sacred choral music.

I was anyway planning to do some writing in Watershed’s café that day, so I heard the choir rehearsing. The sounds floated through the cafe, inspiring but never encroaching; a perfect soundtrack.

One small detail on the website was incorrect but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment. This choir, of teenagers, was actually the Erebus Youth Ensemble. The funding for the project came through late, so they had been recruited and rehearsed in a very short time; two or three weeks, I believe. But my goodness, they were good, despite the limited rehearsal time.

So there was no way I’d have missed the “public sharing” at 5:00. It was billed as “not a performance but a progress report on the project.”

A technical team combining Watershed’s Pervasive Music Studio, the Old Vic, and I think from HP too, all under the Bristol Proms umbrella, had wired up the singers. As far as I recall they were monitoring heart rate and vocal pitch; also the conductor’s hand and eye movements. Some other stuff too, I believe, but my note-taking ability was clearly not up to the task.

I don’t think they told us what had happened to pulse rates. That interests me particularly, because studies have shown that the heart-rates of professional actors, when delivering a monologue, can get so high they are matched only by test pilots.

The team said there’s evidence of growing synchronization between the pulses of singers, as each piece progresses, to within a few milliseconds. As for the communication aspect, they got the conductor to wear a ‘Google Glass’ and we could see on a screen where she was looking at any one time. Spooky! That gave us half of the eye-contact that’s doubtless part of a conductor’s bag of tricks.

The singing would have sent me away happy on its own. But the presentations by the technical team were tied together neatly by Clare Reddington, Director of Watershed’s Pervasive Media Studio. As she promised, short clips of what we saw can be found on Clare’s YouTube channel:  https://www.youtube.com/user/clarered.

All in all, a fascinating and memorable hour; I shall be following up for more info, which Clare Reddington has promised me will be available soon.

In summary:

Innovative and intriguing; very Watershed

 

LBF RULES OK!

Last week I was at the London Book Fair: a first for me. Yes, it’s a trade fair and no, the trade publishers who make up the bulk of the exhibitors are not there to meet authors, but the growing importance of the self-publishing sector made it a worthwhile trip up to the capital.
My main porpoise, or maybe purpose (my spell-check seems to be malfunctioning today) was to support the Alliance of Independent Authors’ (ALLi’s) campaign “Opening Up To Indie Authors” and the launch of the book of the same name by Debbie Young and Dan Holloway. I’ve just joined ALLi and I feel sure this will be a worthwhile initiative.
As always, the best thing about going to trade fairs is the unplanned meetings. The ALLi launch was on the Kobo stand; so far my book has not been available on that platform but having met one or two of the really great Kobo people, especially Sean Foy their MD, I intend to change that very soon.
Having made that decision, something even better happened. I bumped into Richard Lalchan, who runs Creatives Hub and whom I’ve known for some time. He’s very switched on to self-publishing and his IT expertise far outstrips mine, so when he told me I needed to check out Ingram Spark, I listened. But Richard did more than tell me; he took me along to their stand and introduced me to the charming and most knowledgeable Robin Cutler.

Right now, my book “Back to the Black” is only available through Amazon (KDP and CreateSpace). Debbie Young has been urging me (in person and through her book “Sell Your Books”) to widen my e-distribution. So I was delighted to hear that through the Spark platform I can publish both in print and e-format, for one setup charge and with one seamless reporting system; and have the books available via Kobo as well as Amazon and Barnes and Noble etc. Best of all, I’d have my books on Ingram’s list, of which I’d previously only dreamed.

We usually understand the phrase “one-stop shop” in terms of convenience for the consumer; if it’s as good as it sounds, it would seem that the Spark service could be a one-stop shop for the content producer. Maybe the answer to an author’s prayer.

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

For info about my book “Back to the Black: how to become debt-free and stay that way”, go to the book’s website HERE.

Independent and self-published authors: if you’d like to find out about joining ALLi, click HERE.

 

NORWEGIAN WEDDING: BOTH HAPPY AND ENLIGHTENED

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I was honoured to receive an invitation to  officiate as Toastmaster at the wedding in Oslo last month of my former colleague Erle Bryn. A wonderful experience. All weddings are happy but this was one of the happiest I’ve ever attended.

But  I also noticed some interesting differences between the way weddings are organised there and in the UK.

The speeches, in particular, as this was the area where I was`responsible for running the show. Here in the UK, the speeches tend to happen towards the end of the reception; and in general there are only three; and also in general, all by men. Our enlightenment in terms of equal opportunities has been slow in coming.

In Norway, by contrast, there are often many more speeches; and women get equal billing. For Erle’s wedding, the speaker list began with five people: the groom AND the bride; the best man AND the best woman; and finally the “thank you for the meal” speech on behalf of the guests; a lovely tradition that seems to close all formal or semi-formal functions in Scandinavia. As it happens that was given by a woman, so already 60% of what I might call the “core speeches” were by women.

However, that was just the start. When the invitations went out many months in advance, they bore the message: “the Toastmaster is Michael MacMahon. (He is British but you may speak in Norwegian.) If you would like to speak, get in touch with Michael and here’s his e-mail address.”

Quite a few people did in fact get in touch beforehand and quite a few more came up to me during the meal (the speeches ran throughout the meal: another difference) and asked “can you fit me in to your programme?”

In the end there were more than a dozen contributors to the entertainment; not just speeches but quite a few songs and poems written specially for the occasion. And more than half of those contributors were women. That is a Scandinavian phenomenon that I’ve noticed before, when I was one of the speakers (the “thank you for the meal” speech – a great honour for a Brit) at a 50th birthday in Sweden.

We often hold up Scandinavia as a beacon of progressive thinking; the way this wedding was organised seemed to me a good example of it. More importantly, a fabulous and joyful day; I was privileged to be part of it.