Wednesday, March 19, 2014


I am a napping authority.

I’ve drifted off under piles of still-warm laundry, flannel bedspreads, moth-eaten woolen blankets, and crisp cool sheets.

But, trust me, for a transcendent nap, nothing beats curling up under a puffy, white, down duvet.

I was once blasé about naps. But then sleep’s transformative qualities struck me.     

Take “power naps,” the godsend of type-A individuals. You sit in a straight-backed chair, lean forward, forearms on knees, hands cupped together cradling a bunch of keys.

You doze off. Your hands relax and separate. The keys crash to the floor.

Voilà! The clatter wakes you up … fully renewed.
How miraculous that just seconds of unconsciousness can completely recharge your drained, sluggish body.  

Equally baffling, but for different reasons, is “extreme napping.”

I once heard a story about a woman who “napped” for 14 consecutive years, then suddenly woke up, and functioned fine for the rest of her long life. (She lived to be 98 years old.)  

The sleeper had been a graduate student in psychology. She had been on a seaside holiday with friends, had returned home feeling sick and unsteady, had crawled into her bed, and then didn’t wake up for six thousand days.

What triggered her awakening was hearing two nurses misinterpreting one of Freud’s theories. Her brain was “offended” by the mistake, said the storyteller, and the sleeper had sat bolt upright and said, “That’s not at all what Freud meant.”

What could her brain possibly have been doing during that deep sleep, that time on “pause?” (I spent decades researching her story and eventually wrote a book about the sleeper’s remarkable experience.*)

I continue to do “sleep research” most afternoons. That is, I lie down and see what happens. Ten minutes, forty minutes, three hours. No matter the length, I always wake up recharged. How is this possible?

My brain has shared with me the same insights about its renewal mechanism that Richard Selzer writes about in discussing his 23-day period of unconsciousness as a result of Legionnaire’s disease (his book is titled Raising the Dead). “The truth?” he confesses. “I don’t remember a darn thing.”

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