The Japanese have a number of words for different types of naps. They include on’ne – being online and falling asleep from the time of a dial-up modem (in the days when you would wait ages for a page to load) – and issui, a nap whilst waiting for a pot of rice to boil.
But the most interesting concept is that of inemuri: ‘asleep but present’. This is when you are asleep during a situation where you are present for another reason, e.g. during a lecture or meeting. The important things about inemuri are that you are positioned as though you were listening and that while you appear to be asleep, you are in fact able to contribute to the situation when called to.
So instead of a nap, inemuri is more like dozing or daydreaming with your eyes closed. Inemuri is acceptable because it shows that you must be tired from working so hard, and for this reason it is not considered embarrassing to be doing it. The Japanese believe that inemuri actually aids creativity and again this leads to an acceptance of this behaviour.
So should the rest of us be practicing inemuri elsewhere in the world? Given that we are all working long hours and that rates of stress have gone up, there is perhaps a need for the benefits associated with inemuri. But there would need to be a serious change in attitudes to seeing someone with their eyes closed. Here in the UK, such behaviour is more likely to be judged as the result of excessive partying than as a sign of their hard work and dedication!
Dr. Neil Stanley
Dr Neil Stanley is an independent sleep expert who has been involved in research for over 35 years. After starting out at the R.A.F. Institute of Aviation Medicine, he moved on to the University of Surrey's Human Psychopharmacology Research Unit, where he was Director of Sleep Research. Today, he travels the world lecturing on various aspects of sleep to both healthcare professionals and the public at large.