Let’s face it, I sometimes rest my eyes during a talk and take a little nap. And let’s face it, it’s the most refreshing sleep in the world. Something had to be done, and I started bringing a small sound recorder to the talks. But even with the audio I was unable to recreate the conditions in my bed. So, I should have held off on the eight-hour mixtape, turns out.
I still think it was a great concept. A full night of talk-nap-sleep would be bliss and might be unsafe. But I would lose the main benefit which is that I understand the talk better after the nap than I did before. Picture this scene: I’ve missed something important from slide 4 or 5… and the next Western shrouds the room with its sickly glow… and I rest my eyes. . . . . . and presto! Everything fits into its place. The data is singing to me, a lush and plaintive song, and I know what experiment must be on the next slide before I see it. And I know the Future Directions, and the different hyperparathyroidisms, and how to destroy the mini-mental exam. All of Core flashes before my eyes.
So the key is to optimize talk-napping conditions in their natural venue: talks. Now, I’m not advocating sleeping through an entire lecture, which just leaves me even woozier. Although there are PIs – not at this institution, the ones I’m thinking of at this moment – who are renowned for watching whole presentations with their eyes closed and heads strategically positioned against the wall or seat back, their necks jauntily cocked to one side—then suddenly asking incredibly perceptive and uncomfortable questions at the end. But this tends to be during lab meeting, with better chairs.
The key thing you don’t want is to fall into the vicious cycle of neck-snapping. I worry – for real – that you’re going to hurt yourself. The sleep is sub-par. And everyone’s watching, and somehow you often tend to be in the front row when this happens, perhaps because you thought it would force you to stay awake. I always want to reach out to the neck-snappers and say, “Go home and sleep in your bed,” but they don’t react well to me reaching out, so I’ve cut back.
Once your neck position is a stable one, there is the danger of staying asleep much longer than you planned. For this, it’s helpful to have a “buddy”. If you both do it, it won’t be so embarrassing.
My friend, who snores, was in the habit of bringing a small white-noise generator to talks. If you hide it above a ceiling tile, people assume it’s part of the ventilation system and don’t ask questions. It didn’t actually disguise the snoring, but it did lull most of the rest of the audience to sleep, so a win-win.
If I see you fall asleep in a talk I’m giving, I’ll thank you, because at least it proves I’m still awake.
The biggest risk I can see is dreaming whole new sections of the talk. It’s very disorienting and the talks are long enough already. I once dreamt that the talk ended and I went back to lab and planned and carried out a week’s worth of new experiments. In a way it’s good, because the data didn’t really make sense. But the controls weren’t very good.