BABIES DO IT EFFORTLESSLY. Cats do it endlessly. Even some adults have mastered the art. But for most Americans, the luxury of taking a nap remains only a daydream.
"Me? Sleep? In broad daylight, when there's work to do?" non-nappers ask incredulously at the mere suggestion of a timeout. "Surely you jest."
But Camille Anthony does not jest. As president of the Napping Company, a "napping advocacy" group in Reading, Mass., Mrs. Anthony wants to spread the word that catching a few zzzzz's on company time can be the ticket to greater productivity and well-being.
"Sleep is the buzzword now," she says. "We're working longer hours with more responsibility. People are fatigued."
Mrs. Anthony speaks from experience. When she worked for a public relations firm in Boston, she dozed for 10 to 20 minutes on a white leather couch each day, waking up refreshed.
So convinced is she about the salutary effects of a postprandial snooze that three years ago she and her husband, William, established National Workplace Napping Day. This year's observance will take place next Monday, April 8. It's a perfect way, they say, to start regaining the hour of sleep everyone will lose Saturday night when clocks spring forward for daylight saving time.
Mr. Anthony has also written a lighthearted book, "The Art of Napping at Work."
Another author eager to teach people how to catch 40 daytime winks is Jill Murphy Long. Her just-published addition to the Nap Lit genre is titled "Permission to Nap: Taking Time to Restore Your Spirit." Illustrated with soothing antique botanical prints, the book is aimed at women who feel guilty about closing their eyes while the sun is up.
Would any self-respecting residents of Spain or Mexico, where the afternoon nap is an enshrined tradition, need to read a book to learn how to take a siesta? And would they require an annual Sleep Awareness Week, which the National Sleep Foundation is celebrating this week? Doubtful.
Who could have imagined that such a natural part of life sleep would become so complicated, so formalized?
In a study released yesterday, the sleep foundation reports that an "epidemic of daytime sleepiness" contributes to everything from road rage to obesity. It warns that 47 million adults in "the army of the walking tired" aren't "meeting their minimum sleep need" of seven or eight hours.
But wait. University of California researchers recently reported that people who slept five or six hours a night were living longer than those who slept eight hours.
Too much sleep? Too little? Which is correct?
In the go-go 1980s and '90s, it was a badge of honor and self-importance to brag about getting by on minimal sleep. Shut-eye was deemed expendable, optional, the activity of last resort: I'm awake, therefore I am.
Today, small signs hint that burning the midnight oil may be losing favor. Beginning this week, a third Boston TV station has moved its late newscast from 11 p.m. to 10 p.m. Benjamin ("early to bed and early to rise") Franklin would surely approve.
In another shift, a few businesses now sanction a midday snooze by providing nap rooms. Mrs. Anthony doesn't pretend that this practice will become widespread anytime soon. "Fortune 500 companies are going to be the hardest to deal with on the whole issue of productivity and fatigue," she says. "But we're going to see a change."
If she's right, perhaps the time is coming when sleep will be the new status symbol. Bragging rights will belong to those who can spend enough time in the Land of Nod to wake up rested. No more raccoon circles under the eyes!
A sleepyhead nation, intent on reforming its ways, might even borrow a rallying cry from the 17th-century diarist Samuel Pepys. The best rebuke to the relentless demands of a modern 24/7 world may be the line he often used to end his daily entry: "And so to bed."