Do This Don't: Nap All The Freaking Time

Nap shame lies somewhere between Peter Pan Syndrome (refusal to grow up) and Sleep Machismo (lack of sleep as a virtue).
Publish date:
February 26, 2013
naps, nap shame

I hide it (or try to) from family, friends, significant others. I turn off my phone, will lie and tell you I was in a meeting or appointment when I miss you call. Sometimes I even do it in public.

Naps. I take naps.

Why the secrecy? To ward off the NAP SHAMING I’ve encountered when I confess to a nap. Research tells us that short naps improve cognitive function, alertness, and mood the rest of the day. Yet, there remains a stigma of laziness, irresponsibility, and hedonistic luxury associated with it. Why?

We nap as babies, and children. Parents regulate their children’s naps. Yet to some, admitting you take a nap seems akin to admitting you still wet the bed, or suck your thumb, or watch "Sesame Street" (look, if it happens to be on, sometimes I still watch it, OK?)

But, despite the overwhelming scientific research on its benefits, napping has never seems to have made it out of the “I’ll never grow up” pout.

Nap shame lies somewhere between Peter Pan Syndrome (refusal to grow up) and Sleep Machismo (lack of sleep as a virtue).

We’ve all met (or maybe you are one of them) people who buy into idea of “sleep machismo,” or seeing lack of sleep as a virtue. Here is a typical exchange between myself and these types (rife with backhanded comments, judgments, and humble brags):

Scenario 1

Me: I think I’m going to take a nap.

Them: Oh, I wish *I* had that kind of time, to take a nap…

Scenario 2

Me: (yawning) God, I could use a nap.

Them: Late night last night?

Me: Gosh. No, not really.

Them: I stayed up until 2am making these cupcakes for my daughters’ Girl Scout troupe. So, getting up at 5am to hit the gym before work was crazy! My abs are so sore!

Me: (sledging my third Diet Coke) Yy…yeah.

Them: Oh, honey. Diet soda is poison. I’ll bet some refreshing mineral water would perk you right up instead.

Scenario 3

Me (groggy when answering the phone) : I was taking a nap.

Them: I’m so jealous that you can just sleep in the middle of the day! You’re so lucky you don’t have a real job.

I realize not everyone can nap in the middle of the day, and not every one needs to. But, I do, and I can.

And -- here’s the thing -- if you need a nap to function well, you better find a way to get one. You hear them say it on “Biggest Loser” all the time: you think you don’t have time to work out? Make the time. Prioritize. Carve out 10 minutes here, 15 there. Naps work best between 10 and 30 minutes, anyway.

Any more than that and you’ll risk waking up mid REM, groggy, wiping saliva from your cheek, asking, “What day is it?” Gotta get the timing down right.

A similarly nap-minded friend spends 30 minutes in her car during lunch, doors locked, seat reclined, theta-wave music earphones, eye-mask on. “Even if I don’t actually sleep, that ‘state change’ makes all the difference, “ she says.

What she’s getting at is that if you (literally) are not in a position to take a real nap, you can try a “meditation nap.” The trick to that is to learn how to actually meditate, not just sit there thinking “How do I meditate” and “Am I doing this right?” Or, worse, “Eggs, milk, bread…what else do I need to get?”

Personally, I suck at meditation. Much better at napping. Sorry, Buddha.

Pro-nap experts explain that since sleep is cumulative, a Sunday afternoon nap can help you recover from a late Saturday night, but/and it can also prevent sleep debt later in the week when you miss an hour here, 40 minutes there, etc. As you may have surmised, sleep debt is the difference between the amount of sleep you should be getting and the amount you actually get.

So, if you generally require eight hours of sleep to feel good, and you are constantly only getting 7 hours, within a week, it’s as if you’ve lost an entire day of sleep. An entire day! Yup, that’s the way sleep debt works.

And though you might not feel it right away, over time –- weeks, months of that sleep debt, it will start to show up in other ways –- lowered immunity, fatigue, foggy thinking, memory problems, fatigue. We start looking for reasons –- why do I feel this way? Sometimes the answer is simple: sleep.

Short-term sleep deprivation slays me. Recently I was on vacation and everyone else got a good night’s sleep but me. West Coast to East Coast Jet lag and a late-night phone call kept me up until 3:30am. Everyone else was up and ready for a sunshiny Florida day at The Animal Kingdom, I was nauseated, the sun made my lack-of-sleep headache worse, and I looked and felt like the Walking Dead.

I was conflicted: struggle through the day in the spirit of “fun” or go back to the room and sleep. Wasn’t I sleeping my vacation away?

Back to the room I went, and slept a good three hours to make up for entire half night of sleep I lost. When everyone came back in the afternoon, I was bright eyed and ready to go (okay, first I was groggy as shit because of the whole napping past 30 minutes thing, but after a shower, I was good as new) and could actually enjoy the rest of the day. It’s called self-care, and it’s a good thing.

If you are a napper, others can label you weird, selfish, weak, depressed. It’s true: some people feel good after only 6 hours. Others (me) feel like sh*t if they get less than 8, some need 10 (I can hear the eyeballs rolling. Ten hours? Who has time for ten hours?) If you know you need 10 hours to feel right and good, then naps might be the only way to get close to that number.

As women, our need for sleep is sometimes downplayed as “Beauty Sleep” -- as if, for women, the defining characteristic of sleep is its gateway to beauty. Talk about a different kind of Sleep Machismo! “Beauty sleep” has all the connotations of batting eyelashes, slathering on Pond’s cold cream over our housecoats, and rolling long locks of hair into painful cylinders to roll crush our skulls all night.

Sure, we look better when we have more sleep -– but so do men. Lack of sleep causes dehydration, sallow skin, puffy eyes, dark circles. Lack of sleep means your body produces more of the stress hormone cortisol, which depletes collagen. And last, losing sleep can mean gaining weight, which leads to its own slew of health problems. Health problems: not simply “beauty” problems.

Call me lazy. Call me the Princess and the Pea. But, naps are free. They don’t cost money or side effects like caffeine or headache pills, or the other stuff we use for getting through a day, week, or month of sleep debt. When needed, they can improve mood and energy levels, boost memory, and reduced information and sensory, reduce burnout, and better able to live our best lives. What’s not to love?

Let us unite: NO MORE NAP SHAME!

Now I’m off to take a nap.