To Nap or Not to Nap
Last updated: February 2022
To nap or not to nap. That is the question. And a hotly debated one it is too.
Naps are often portrayed as the enemy of good sleep hygiene. But for those of us desperate for a moment of reprieve, we'll take whatever we can, whenever we can.
An occasional nap is a no-brainer for me
While sleep has never been my superpower, it wasn't always the debilitating impediment to good living that it became over the years. After decades of decline, my insomnia became so crippling that I had a complete nervous breakdown. So, learning to take the occasional nap to save my sanity seems like a no-brainer, really.
My search for the perfect solution to insomnia
When I first realised that I was sleeping less than your average person, I went on an intensive search for the perfect solution – something that would ensure I would start being blessed with the magical 8 hours a night that is talked about in hallowed circles.
I modified my diet – removing caffeine and alcohol, and going easy on inflammatory things like sugar, dairy, and gluten.
I tried over-the-counter magical concoctions and everyone's favourite insomnia cure – melatonin. They all made my sleep worse.
Good sleep hygiene did not help
I worked my way through all the sleep hygiene principles, slowly eroding joy from my life. And I became a militant no-nap advocate – because I'd read that daytime napping messed around with night-time sleep cycles.
I soldiered through the days with manic exhaustion dripping from my tired little fingernails. Nothing helped. Well – initially, modifications to my diet did help ease some of the insomnia, but the sleep hygiene principles did nothing for me. And I pursued them for many months.
A brief reprieve then even more exhaustion
Sleep was something much discussed at my doctor appointments, but there was no solution – just more emphasis on good sleep hygiene and a philosophy of "this too shall pass." It didn't pass.
I was diagnosed with restless legs syndrome (RLS) and eventually given pharmacological treatments that did ease insomnia for a little while.
I tried the draconian strategy of getting up at the same time every day but going to bed later and later each night in the hope that pure exhaustion would force a sleep routine upon me. I just became even more exhausted.
Embracing naps as friend, not foe
Eventually, I had to face the very grim reality that sleep and I would never be on friendly terms. So, I ditched my no-nap rule and if a moment of sleep wanted to grace me with its presence, who was I to reject it?
For the past 5 years, I have embraced naps as friend rather than foe. During many of my worst years of insomnia, a 20-minute nap at 3 o'clock in the afternoon was sometimes the only sleep I'd have for a day or 2 at a time. Eventually, even naps failed to visit me and I fell apart.
Do you take naps during the day?
Finding what works for me
Now I have drugs that support my psychological wellbeing, my RLS, and my insomnia. Without them, I swear I would never sleep again. But still, I nap.
I am currently on holiday in the very picturesque tourist town of Byron Bay, the most easterly point of Australia. I have nothing to do here except eat, swim, go for walks and read books. And sleep.
Some days I don't feel like a nap. And that's okay.
Some days I feel like a nap. And that's okay.
There are no hard and fast rules for managing insomnia
My nights are not impacted by the amount of rest I have had during the day, and I have to confess, after decades of struggling to get a moment's shut-eye at any hour of the day, the fact I can now nap is a most blessed blessing. And for that, I am very grateful.
I have come to learn that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to managing insomnia. Perhaps for you, a daytime nap is a night-time disaster. Perhaps like me, you will grab sleep anytime it comes your way. Perhaps you can only but dream of the ability to nap. I don't know. But one thing I do know for sure, whatever works for you is the best option there is. And no solution works for everyone.
Now – it's time for me to take a nap.
Do you think insomnia has an impact on your mental health?
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