Islamic Wisdom and the Afternoon Nap

psych-facts:

Earlier research has found that dreams boost learning, with one study suggesting a 90-minute nap may help lock in long-term memories. But Walker’s research, published this week in the journal Current Biology, finds that another phase of sleep, called nonrapid eye movement (NREM) is most closely linked to the learning boost provided by a nap.

Walker and his colleagues recruited 44 volunteers — 27 women and 17 men — to come to the sleep lab at noon. First, the volunteers were given a task in which they had to memorize 100 names and faces. Then they were tested for how well they recalled the face-name matches.

Next, the researchers tucked half of the volunteers in for a nap between 2 p.m. and 3:40 p.m. The scientists measured the napping volunteers’ brain waves as they slept. The other group of participants stayed awake and did daily activities as they normally would. At 6 p.m., both groups memorized another set of 100 faces and names and were tested on their memory. (The experiment was set up so nappers had more than an hour to shake off any remaining fuzziness before the test, Walker said.)

The first major finding, Walker said, was that learning ability degrades as the day wears on. Volunteers who didn’t nap did about 12 percent worse on the evening test than they did on the morning test. (Walker presented preliminary findings of this effect at a conference in February 2010.) But shut-eye not only reversed those effects, it provided a memory boost: Napping test-takers did about 10 percent better on the evening test than they did on the morning test. In all, the difference in scores between nappers and non-nappers was about 20 percent, Walker said.

Secondly, the brain-wave monitoring turned up a likely culprit for the memory upgrade: a short, synchronized burst of electrical activity called a sleep spindle. These sleep spindles last about one second and can occur 1,000 times per night during NREM sleep. People who had more of these spindles, especially people who had more over a frontal area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, showed the most refreshment in learning capacity after their nap, Walker said.

I love it when modern day research confirms the benefits of age old practices. Muslims have known, but mostly abandoned, the practice of sleeping after the midday prayer, even though it is an established tradition of the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh). Also, because of the ignorance of this in Western culture, most modern day offices don’t allow for such a practice to be maintained. The productivity gains and efficiency benefits could easily outweigh the cost of a 30 – 45 minute downtime in the middle of the day. 

Insomnia

A few years ago I struggled with insomnia in horrid ways. There were times when I would lie awake in bed staring at the ceiling until 03h00 with nothing and a million things rushing through my head at the same time. Eventually, I’d get out of bed, drive around all the scary neighbourhoods in the middle of the night, since I’d never attempt that during daylight hours or in the early part of the night, and eventually return home at about 05h30 to crash in bed around 06h00, only to wake again at 06h30 to get ready for work.

This cycle went on for weeks at a time, if not months. The only thing that occasionally helped me at first was warm milk loaded with honey and ginger as a night cap. More recently, chamomile tea helped as well. But I found with chamomile tea I would wake up feeling heavy-limbed and groggy. Quite possibly because I still went to bed too late. 

But the most effective of all was the tongue exercise that I discovered somewhere along the troubled path. I realised that each time my mind was racing, or I was distracted, my jaw would normally be clenched and my tongue would be pressed against the back of my teeth. This happened even when I was laying in bed trying to sleep. Eventually I would focus on just relaxing my jaw and my tongue, and without realising it, I would quite quickly drift off to sleep. Peacefully as well. 

The theory in my head goes something like this. Our bodies seem to be naturally inclined to want to express our emotional or intellectual state. Hence some people gesturing unconsciously whilst deep in thought, or others having conversations with themselves, etc. So I figured that instead of trying to clear my thoughts when my mind was cluttered, I should rather focus on relaxing that part of my body that was reacting to the racing thoughts – my tongue. By focusing on relaxing my tongue, in fact not even focusing on it, but rather just allowing it to relax, my thoughts cleared and my mind was able to switch off for long enough to fall asleep. 

It’s served me well ever since. 

Ultraviolet Kisses

myelephantine:

Day light gently tugs me while I sleep and I curl myself a little tighter, hanging off the hems of a dream. It’s only been three hours since my lids gave up on me, but I feel her rising and flirting against my skin, warm kisses on my wrists and fingertips. She’s banished the shadows in my room and conjured a melody of birds by my window. She whispers promises in my ear and I pull my covers over my head and sink into an artificial night.

Leave me here.