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August 10, 2011

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Making the case for copping some zzs

PEOPLE who nod off in meetings may be on to something - catching a little shut-eye when and where you can is good for the health, if not the job, according to Zhang Qian.

A Chinese saying goes that medicine is not as good as a healthy diet and the best treatment of all is sleep.

Doctors everywhere attach great importance to the role of sleep in maintaining good health. That includes not only the basic seven or eight hours at night, but also napping during the day.

A good night's sleep helps ensure energy for the day ahead, while a half hour's nap can refresh and help one prepare for work in the afternoon.

The right time of day, length of nap and body position are important to get the most out of your nap.

High summer temperatures at midday lead to more blood and yang (hot) energy rising to the surface of the body, resulting in less blood flow to the brain, according to traditional Chinese medicine.

This can mean that a busy morning of work or study leads to fatigue and drowsiness. Less restful sleep on warm summer nights and midday can increase the fatigue.

A nap of 15-30 minutes at midday after lunch can help relieve fatigue and restore some energy, says Dr Zhou Duan, chief physician of Longhua Hospital attached to the Shanghai University of TCM.

Research in the UK has shown that a 10-minute nap can relieve fatigue more efficiently than two more hours of sleep at night. Other research has shown that napping reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and depression.

"Generally, a nap is recommended for most people in the summer, including both those who do physical and mental work," says Dr Zhou.

"Naps can help restore energy for brain function and physical strength and reduce the risk of heart problems for those working outdoors in summer."

But he says that people with low blood pressure or circulation problems should be careful lest napping reduce their blood pressure further. People with insomnia often find that daytime naps make night time sleep even more difficult.

For most people, an hour is enough for a nap; sleeping longer can make one feel listless and may not be refreshing.

It is not recommended to nap shortly after a heavy lunch, though according to the TCM biological "clock," the best time for napping is from around noon to 1pm.

Eating too much before napping puts a burden on the digestive system, causing blood to flow to the stomach and reducing the necessary flow to the head. Take a 10-minute walk after lunch is advised before napping.

Body position is important for efficient napping.

Office workers often put their head down on their desk, but this posture is not healthy.

The muscles are not completely relaxed and sleeping in an awkward position may worsen fatigue, not reduce it.

With the head pressing on the arms, the hands may get numb; pressure on the eyeballs is not healthy.

The best position is lying down. If there's no conference room with couches, it's advised to sit in a chair against the wall, with a cushion at the lower back and a pillow at the neck.

It's important to stay away from air-conditioning vents and drafts to avoid getting chilled. Covering up with a coat or light blanket may be helpful.

After a nap, people should stand up gradually, not abruptly, to avoid dizziness.

Drinking a glass of water is suggested before swinging into physical action; splashing the face with water and walking around a bit may help.

Of course, not everyone can take a nap, but for those who do, a regular nap at a more or less regular time is best and won't disrupt the biological clock.

If it's not possible to nap but rest is needed, then listening to music may help relieve fatigue.


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