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Electronic Design

What's All This Nap Stuff, Anyhow?

I like to sleep. I like to wake up. But I don't like to wake up at 1:40 a.m. and not be able to get back to sleep for a few hours. Two o'clock, 3, 4... and this lying in bed is not restful. Finally I may get back to sleep at 5 and when I wake up at 7, the newspaper is waiting for me to read it. I'm not off to a good start on the day.

I think I've solved this problem. When I wake up at 2 a.m., I wait for barely 1/2 hour, and if I can't get to sleep, I get up. I read some e-mails or other mail, and I type, and perhaps write a column (as I am doing now). By 5 a.m., I can usually get the newspaper. If I then get a "nap attack" and go back to sleep, that is great.

I can wake up by 7:30 a.m., surprisingly well rested. Trying to get back to sleep at 2 a.m. can be a loser. Big waste of time. Getting up and working, to get sleepy, is not a terrible idea. I don't know why I can't get back to sleep at 2 or 3 a.m. I guess I am rested just enough that I can't get back to sleep.

I never have much trouble with jetlag. When I fly at 4 p.m. to Europe, I may fall asleep on the plane, but not get much rest. So by the time I get to London-Heathrow (LHR), I am a little tired. However, by 5 p.m., I get quite sleepy. If I fall asleep then, I might sleep for several hours and then wind up wide awake in the middle of the night! That is the bugaboo of jetlag— not being able to get your sleep/awake cycle into the right phase. So:

(A) If you get sleepy at 5 p.m. on your first day in Europe—go ahead, go to sleep—but set two alarms, as needed, to wake you up after just a couple hours. Then, get up and do the town, and eat and drink, all evening.

(B) Drink is the other part of the solution. Drink lots of beer, or whatever, and stay awake and cheerful until at least 11 p.m., preferably later. Then go to bed. You are then so tired, and well hydrated, and full of alcohol and food, that you can now sleep to morning. This is like taking a phase-locked loop and forcing it to a new phase.

Sometimes I don't get enough sleep during the week. I build up a sleep deficit. When I get to Saturday, I sleep late, and I am still tired. Obviously I need to get another nap.

Once, I was driving down toward work. I was quite sleepy, but I kept awake just fine all the way down to El Camino Real. Then I had to make a left turn onto Shoreline. I stopped in one of the two left-turn lanes. A few minutes later, a woman came by and rapped on my window. "Are you all right?" I had fallen asleep while waiting for the green arrow. I figured, I might have to take a nap later in the day—but I didn't. Apparently the few minutes of nap (sitting parked in the middle of the road) kept me rested enough for the rest of the day. I was a bit surprised by that.

As I say in my pretty good book*, driving while sleepy is pretty dangerous and comparable in danger to driving under the influence of alcohol. Washing your face with cold water, or taking a snack with caffeine, or singing loudly, may work for a little while. But when these do not work, take a nap. It's dangerous not to.

We've all heard the warning: "If it is very cold, don't go to sleep, or you may never wake up." But this is not necessarily true. Napping when you are only moderately sleepy is probably a good idea. Staying awake until you are exhausted is probably not a good idea, as you may be more prone to chilling when you fall asleep at that stage.

Comments invited! [email protected] —or:
Mail Stop D2597A, National Semiconductor
P.O. Box 58090, Santa Clara, CA 95052-8090

*How To Drive Into ACCIDENTS— And How NOT To, page 277, Pease Publishing, at

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