By Charles Alexander Moffat
My grandfather turned 81 this past year and continues, despite his age, to live a robust and full life. He retired at the age of 70, after farming for over 50 years since before the age of 18. Farming itself being a strenuous back-breaking occupation, most farmers these days usually retire around 60 or 65. By the age of 65, most farmers also have poor health from all the hard labour they have endured.
But why was my grandfather able to continue living such a robust lifestyle, and is in such good health? Is it genetics? Diet? Or is it something more basic?
My grandfather sleeps only about six hours each night. Sometimes less. In the afternoon after eating he takes a nap for about an hour. That’s just what he does, and it makes me wonder, could his unusual sleeping pattern simply be more natural? The way humans are meant to sleep.
Most humans these days work in a fast paced office or factory environment. They don’t have time to take a nap or siesta like my grandfather does. Being a self-employed farmer certainly has its benefits. Modern Canadian society dictates that the majority of us work a nine-to-five schedule, with a half-hour lunch break. People caught sleeping on the job usually find themselves fired.
However, in Central American countries such as Mexico, Guatemala, Cuba and Columbia, workers and farmers routinely take siestas in the afternoon for roughly 45 minutes to a hour every day. This habit isn’t just found in Central America however, its also found in Europe, Africa and India, but is not as common.
In North America, the space administration NASA also has adopted siestas into its work program, with shuttle crews taking siestas in order to boost work productivity and maximize the amount of time they spend working. NASA claims that it boosts productivity levels by 35%. Other companies in North America have also adopted similar practices.
In zoos and in the wild, gorillas, apes and monkeys also take naps during the afternoon, and sleep approximately six hours at night. Anthropologists take this to mean that apes (including humans) are actually meant to sleep only six hours at night and one hour in the afternoon, in contrast to the eight hours of sleep that people in society have been recommending for generations.
Except for people like my grandfather, who simply refuses to work until he has had his nap. According to my grandmother if he doesn’t get his nap, he becomes grumpy, irritable and drowsy. Which is the same symptoms that many people get on a daily basis during the afternoon, symptoms that most people conclude must be due to lack of sleep, and is usually solved by a jolt of strong coffee. The caffeine however comes with its own problems however, as the person feels even more tired by the time the caffeine wears off.
According to television advertising the only difference between a good night’s sleep is a good mattress. The “Sleep-O-Matic 4000” and other such brand name mattresses claim that the only reason people cannot sleep at night is because their mattress is too uncomfortable. So what did people 10,000 years ago sleep on? They certainly were not sleeping on mattresses filled with duck down and springs.
The modern mattress is not the answer to a person’s sleeping problems. Or their health problems caused by bad sleeping patterns. Ulcers, heart attacks, weight problems and even grey hair have been linked by scientific studies showing that people who complain about insomnia or lack of sleep are more likely to have these problems. I would not be at all surprised if people who had insomnia or problems sleeping simply changed their routine to incorporate an afternoon nap would begin to feel more robust and healthy, like my grandfather already is. Their ulcers and possibly other health concerns might also decrease.
I should also mention what a doctor told me after returning from a long trip in Asia. I had a really bad case of jet lag due to the huge twelve hour time shift and a fifteen hour long flight. The doctor’s suggestion was simple: Take naps. Then the doctor quoted Benjamin Franklin, who said, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Benjamin Franklin also reputedly took naps in the afternoon just like my grandfather does.
Could it be that my grandfather’s indomitable good health and old age is simply due to sleeping the way we are meant to? Therefore it is genetics, specifically sleep genetics, which governs our ability to relax, regenerate and recoup our energy. We really are meant to sleep less at night and have an afternoon nap. It gives our bodies the time it needs to regenerate and regain our energy. Productivity, peace of mind, and a healthy body.
Now if you’ll excuse me, its time for my nap.