Sleep, glorius sleep. We need it to survive, and the amount we get has been the subject of medical studies for years. Ask any parent, especially a first time one with a newborn, what they think about the most, and sleep ( both theirs and the baby’s) will be near the top of the list. As someone who takes a lot of naps, I thought I’d share my advice, and of course some humor, about the subject.
Some interesting research on the subject of sleeping, and naps. A third of all Americans take a daily nap, with the number rising to 52% for those over 80. Research shows that naps can improve memory when studied in a lab setting. To “nap well”, experts recommend taking them in the early afternoon, for about half an hour to avoid interfering with your nighttime sleep. Interestingly, the Pew Research Center and CDC also report that 10-30% of adults struggle with chronic insomnia.
My relationship with napping goes back to age three and my aversion to taking them- Long before I was a Nana, I was pretty funny is my first blog post that includes a humorous story about it. As a kid, I remember being full of energy and happily busy- tennis, music and dance lessons, Girl Scouts, playing with friends, and family gatherings. As an extrovert with a capital E, I enjoyed everything I could be involved in. The busier, the better.
A major change to this started in high school, a few weeks before graduation. My activities were numerous, and I also had a part time job at a local restaurant ( Kings Food Host for any Nebraska natives reading this), and was happily looking forward to a fun summer before starting college in the fall. A scratchy throat and being more tired than usual didn’t change my schedule much, but by early June I was in the hospital with a nasty case of mono, where I stayed for a week. The rest of the summer was a lot of staying home, resting, and not having any energy.
I started taking regular naps that summer and continued when school started in the fall. They were really a necessity, and I can honestly say that I never got my pre-mono energy back. Not just that summer, but ever. So my professional napping was underway, to be developed and refined over the years to come.
A couple of funny stories about my naps. First, I took a fairly long snooze on a congressman’s couch. Not as nefarious as it sounds! A friend was the chief of staff for our congressional representative, and I was visiting the Capitol Building while he worked there. My usual afternoon, I really need to sleep time occurred, so the friend offered the couch in the office. Luckily, the congressman was not in Washington at the time. But a fun story nevertheless.
Another time I was in dire need of an afternoon nap, and I decided to squeeze one in before I picked up my grade school aged children from school. This was in the days of landlines, so I turned the ringer off to avoid being awakened. I underestimated how long I would sleep, and to my horror woke up about 45 minutes after I should have been there. I quickly called the school office and the lovely secretary, Pat, was glad to hear I was alive. When the girls weren’t picked up, she had arranged for another mother ( and neighbor) to bring them home, called my mom and spouse, and was waiting to hear from them if I was ok. I walked outside just in time for said neighbor, my mom, and spouse all to arrive in my driveway at the same time. It was the only time I missed a pick up in decades of parenting, but it has grown in legend over the years when my kids tell the tale.
Fast forward to my late thirties, and my need for naps increased exponentially. I told my doctors about the crushing fatigue, but they usually blamed it on parenting young kids, working part time and having a very full schedule. Luckily, I finally got a diagnoses of fibromyalgia and some relief from a rheumatologist. I don’t have as much of the muscle soreness as many people do, but the fatigue portion of the illness is very prevalent. They recommend avoiding caffeine and naps, but increasing aerobic activity, which is counterintuitive if you are exhausted. The only prescription that offers any relief for me is a low dose muscle relaxant. They also recommended a sleep study, where I found out that I also had sleep apnea.
So what’s a tired person to do with all of this information? Get checked for fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Listen to your docs, use what works for you, and adapt the rest. I do get aerobic exercise, but I still drink caffeine, and take lots of naps. I find the CDC info above to be too limiting- thirty minutes just isn’t enough time for a decent nap in my book. I find at least an hour beneficial. Take advantage of any space you can find for your rest- the napper in the above photo is living her best life by taking a nap while studying. Kudos to her. Avoiding caffeine in the evening is a good idea, but if you need some earlier in the day to function, have at it! If you snore, get tested for sleep apnea and use the cpap machine or dental appliance they recommend. They work wonders. And ignore anyone who doesn’t understand your need for extra rest, especially if you have one of the aforementioned chronic illnesses. The old adage of “you don’t look sick” comes to mind, and is utterly useless and dismissive.
I will close with a funny story from a vacation. Two years ago, I went on the bucket list trip of a lifetime to Ireland, land of many of my maternal ancestors. I spent a year planning the trip, and made all of the arrangements myself. Between Trip Advisor, some Irish cousins, and a tour guide book my husband and I were set for what turned out to be a fabulous journey. I decided to book seats on Aer Lingus for the overseas flights, and got a great deal on the tickets. Off we went, arriving in Dublin on time with all of our luggage.
After sailing through customs, I was really congratulating myself on my planning skills, and even more so as we sailed through the streets of Dublin quickly and got to our first hotel. Somewhere on that cab ride it occurred to me why our tickets were so reasonable, and why everything went so fast. We landed at 6 am local time. The photo above shows the River Liffey in Dublin at dawn, about the time we arrived. No wonder there weren’t very many people in the international terminal at the airport. And our hotel? We got there before 8 am, and check in time wasn’t until noon. Oops.
I didn’t sleep much on the plane, and was in desperate need of a nap. So we took our luggage and found an empty couch in the lobby. I started out sitting upright, but fell asleep very quickly and didn’t wake up for quite awhile. My husband didn’t need the rest, so he sat across from me and watched our luggage. When I did finally wake up, stretched out on the couch like a bed, I felt a lot better. Hubby was still there, and had located some coffee. The only strange thing was that even though there were a lot of people in the lobby at that point, no one was anywhere near my couch. Apparently, my long siesta without my cpap machine ( which was in the luggage) produced some epic snoring and cleared our side of the lobby. It should come as no surprise that our room became available before noon too. I think the hotel staff wanted to get the snoring American out of the lobby as quickly as possible.
So my advice is to nap when you need to, enjoy it all you can, and ignore anyone who doesn’t understand. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life!