Coffee at conferences: cure for catnaps?
Conventional sleep is defined as a period of rest for the body and mind, during which consciousness and volition are in a partial or complete abeyance and bodily functions are partially suspended. Sleep has been described as a behavioral state with characteristic immobile posture and diminished but easily reversible sensitivity to external stimuli.
The physiological necessity for sleep is self evident, yet its precise contribution to health and well being is still unknown. Although sleep is necessary for survival, requirements vary greatly among individuals. Infants require 16 to 20 hours of total sleep during a 24 hour period. As they mature, the number of hours decrease substantially. Adults need six to nine hours total sleep per day. Thomas Edison, the extraordinary inventor, boasted in his late years that he functioned on two to three hours nightly sleep.
Sleep during the dark of night is the normal pattern for most adults. However, many have the tendency to catnap during the daytime. If this is done deliberately, as in a siesta, there is no serious problem. However, in many individuals, short sleeping periods can occur inadvertently. This can become quite hazardous or embarrassing as when performing a critical task at a machine, or under the watchful eye of a superior or a colleague. President Reagan was notorious for dozing at Cabinet meetings. A recent survey reported that 40% of executives admitted that they had fallen asleep during business conferences. Harm resulting from important decisions by officials missing key information during short sleeping periods is incalculable.
Although there are many medications for preventing sleep in such circumstances, they all have serious side effects. The safest agent for preventing unwanted sleep is the caffeine in coffee and tea. In spite of widespread anti-coffee propaganda, it is still the best all - around agent for this purpose. With minuscule side effects, it has the added advantage of clarifying mental processes and improving clarity and brain function. Instead of jelly beans, President Reagan would have been better served by having coffee freely available at meetings and conferences, to prevent himself and probably other participants from succumbing to the arms of morpheus. Failing that, he should have specified soluble coffee flavored jelly beans, where even this small amount of caffeine content might have prevented his slumber.
Extreme cases of falling asleep unexpectedly during daylight hours become medical problems and are designated as narcolepsy. A relatively rare ailment, it has four characteristic symptoms: recurrent attacks of sleep at unpredictable times; sudden loss of muscle tone; sleep paralysis; and hypnotic behavior. The cause is unknown. No pathological changes in the brain have been observed. It begins in adolescents and young adults with no previous illness, and persists throughout life. Longevity is unaffected when precautions are observed. It is four times more common in men. Some families have a history of this disorder.
These attacks resemble normal sleep and may occur as little as once or twice a day or as often as 15 to 20 times. They may last for a few minutes or hours. The desire to sleep can usually be resisted only temporarily; but the individual can be roused as from normal sleep. Attacks are apt to occur in monotonous condition; but may occur in hazardous circumstances as when driving.
Many feel refreshed on awakening, yet they may fall asleep again in a few minutes. It is questionable whether their total amount of sleep is actually increased; frequent episodes make it seem so, but they often sleep poorly at night, with their nocturnal periods interrupted by vivid, frightening dreams.
The standard treatment for this and other unwanted sleep digressions encompasses the broad range of cerebral stimulants. Mild cases can be prevented by the judicious ingestion of caffeine, either in the form of tablets or beverages, coffee, or tea. More severe cases are controlled by prescribed "uppers" - such as ephedrine, amphetamines or other energizers. With these more potent agents, the dosage must be regulated to the individual, as excess can lead to disturbed or false cerebration. The last dose per day must be taken early enough to avoid sleep interference. No permanent cure for this inconvenience has yet been discovered.
A large group of researchers, studying the biological rhythm of sleep and alertness, believe that the human body was meant to have a mid-afternoon nap. They maintain that the discreet use of such could be the key to preserving vigilance in people like truck drivers, hospital interns, etc., whose urgent need for staying awake must often battle with increased drowsiness.
These studies are also finding that an afternoon nap can significantly increase mental activity and improve mood, particularly in the large groups of people who sleep too little at night.
Interest in naps grew as cycles as sleepiness and wakefulness were tracked throughout the 24 hour day. A wide range of procedures using methods varying from brain wave recording to sleep diaries indicated the same conclusion: there is a strong biological readiness to fall asleep in mid-afternoon, even in individuals who have had a full night's sleep.
It has long been believed that this type of drowsiness is caused by eating a heavy lunch. Recent research shows that this is not so.
Afternoon siestas have long been the custom in tropical and semi-tropical climes. Here, it seems that nature intended that adults should rest at this time, perhaps to avoid the midday sun. In temperate and arctic zones, the sun is less severe, but possibly the catnap need still persists. At any rate, since there is no movement to spread the siesta, mid-afternoon coffee should become more widespread.
Whether normal or not, catnapping by key people at important conferences is indefensible and must be eradicated. Coffee should be required at all such meetings. It should be served, not at the beginning when participants are fresh and have an open mind, but when dullness and lassitude sets in - about half an hour after the meeting starts, and every half our thereafter.
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|Publication:||Tea & Coffee Trade Journal|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1990|
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