Despite getting my flu shot in a timely fashion and trying to eat a vast array of fruits and vegetables loaded with vitamin C, I managed to acquire a winter cold. I had it for several weeks over the holidays. These seasonal maladies can be relentless.
You may recognize the symptoms — sore throat, draining sinuses, a dry cough. My energy level was zilch for a while. I don't know about you, but when I'm not feeling well, I get stuck in a really-sorry-for-myself place for about a week. It's not pretty. It involves wearing layers of old cotton T-shirts, big boxes of tissues and as much chicken soup as I can get someone to make for me.
By the way, research supports chicken soup as definitely helpful in these types of situations, probably the steamy hydration.
When my husband acquired his version of this condition — despite all my attempts to get him to do constant, high-friction hand washing to prevent that from happening — I was able to better observe what works by way of remedy. And I thought I would share.
Besides the chicken-soup theory and reminders to do the obvious, such as drink lots of water, the one thing that greatly assisted us was naps.
There's a body of research on napping that finds it to be one of the best strategies for learning new motor skills. But I'm not talking about naps as a method of skill acquisition — I'm talking about regular and restorative naps that allow the body to rest and recuperate. In my personal experience, naps improve alertness and mood. I can attest to that because we've had a living laboratory in our home since the holidays.
Research done at Harvard some years ago suggests taking your nap between 2 and 3 p.m. and sleeping for at least a half hour. I opted for longer naps — and more of them — but that's just me. The theory is that our neural connections reach a saturation point (especially when we're not feeling well), and napping alleviates overload.
Insomnia specialist and author Gregg Jacobs, a presence on the Oprah show in times past, strongly believes "naps are well researched and scientifically validated." I offer that information in case you feel the need to explain yourself when you announce you are about to take a middle-of-the-day rest.
My suggestion is to choose a sleep environment conducive to full relaxation. I encourage napping in your actual bed, not on the couch in the living room with a crocheted throw pulled over your feet. Pull the shades and dim the lights, just like you would at night. Eyeshades or earplugs work for some people.
When I sleep like that, even if I still have that dratted cold when I wake up, I feel more clear-headed, like I've had little energy boost.
There's a Tibetan Buddhist tradition that may be worth incorporating into daily ritual. It suggests: "For 10 minutes, three times a day, lie down, close your eyes and do nothing." Think of it as a mini series of meditative power naps. Who knows? It might help fend off next year's winter cold.
Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at Sharon@hmj.com.