Fulfill A Dream - Take A Nap

April 28, 2009|By DAN RODRICKS

So where are we on Larry Summers, the president's top economic adviser, falling asleep at that White House meeting last week? We found it embarrassing? We understood, even envied the man?

I would like to know how my fellow Americans feel about this because, over the years, napping has been a favorite subject of mine - both as participant and as champion. I think the American people would be, on the whole, more productive and less prone to accidents and violence if we all just took a little nap every day.

This should be a national priority.

Though I have not conducted any surveys about this recently, I have a feeling that public support might be growing for the National Prevention of Tiredness Act (NAPTA), which is something I just made up, but which has been swimming around in my old brain for years. Every company in the United States should be required by federal statute to allow a 15-minute sleep break per eight-hour workday per employee. And we should have a national campaign to encourage napping instead of what I suspect we have now - a cultural bias against it.

And probably too much guilt associated with it.

This bias goes back to the Protestant work ethic. We think napping represents sloth. Nap-takers are regarded as loathsome sluggards. Napping is an activity for babies and senior citizens, not for busy men and women in the hurly-burly of life or for movers and shakers in the wheelhouses of their careers or for the productive and the successful. Even powerful people don't take power naps. Sleeping on the job can still get you fired in this country.

When Summers nodded off at the White House the other day, while the president was telling bank executives that credit-card abuses needed to end, there was a kind of national guffaw followed by national snicker and followed by late-night jokes.

I had a different reaction, something like: You go, Larry!

I don't know how the guy pulled this off. The president was sitting at a long table directly across from the enemy - the credit-card executives - and a platoon of photographers and news crews with boom microphones crowded behind them. The president was saying some cool stuff: "The days of any-time, any-reason rate hikes and late-fee traps have to end."

And Larry Summers, the former president of Harvard, sat the end of the table, right hand against his face, eyes closed, off to the Land of Nod.

Chris Wallace asked him about this on Fox News Sunday.

"Do you find President Obama's speeches less than compelling, sir?"

"It's kind of like I was thinking about the fine print on some of those credit-card disclosures, which is written boring enough to put you to sleep," Summer answered. "And President Obama wants us all to fulfill our American dreams, and I guess I was starting that day."

That's a revealing statement.

It betrays a belief by Summers that getting a little snooze in the middle of every day represents part of the American dream. It's something we should be proud of - symbolic of how hard we work, and how we take care to be prepared for the rest of the day.

"We're all working very hard in this administration," Summers went on, "because we think that we want to support the president in what is a tremendous responsibility that he has to get this economy growing again and to again establish a period when family incomes are rising."

"Did the president rib you?" Wallace asked.

"Oh, we've all joked about American dreams in various ways."

The next time this happens, then the president should use the occasion and his bully pulpit to tell every American about the virtues of the nap. And he should push my just-made-up National Prevention of Tiredness Act. (I won't even take credit for coining NAPTA, although the National Association of Public Transportation Advocates might have an issue.)

Naps reduce stress and accidents at work and make people more productive. In the age of downsizing, men and women have been asked to take on extra responsibilities, leading to longer work days. The least their employers can do is throw in a 15-minute sleep break. And, because of all the downsizing, they should have extra space available for sleeping lounges.

We will be a happy, healthier nation if we get through this economic meltdown and make naps a mandatory option in the workplace.

All in favor say "Zzzzz."

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