I have a dirty little secret. I’ve been rather ashamed of it. It started in high school, and it continues some 20 years later.
I’m a napper. And not a 30-minute catnap type of napper (although any nap is a nap, and worthy of the term and its benefits). When I nap, I go in for the long two-hour, REM type. I’ve spoken with my general practitioner about said midday snoozing, and he’s tested me for thyroid issues and deficiencies, but in the end, he says it’s not a medical matter—my body clearly needs the rest.
I’ve skimmed the subject with a variety of therapists and life coaches, and a first response usually goes something like this: “Are you sad about something? Stressed out? Have your eating habits changed?” However, they, too, seem to come to the consensus that while I may exhibit some signs of depression, my napping is more about listening to the exhaustion of mind and body—not necessarily the effect of debilitating sadness. (Though sleep tends to be my go-to for such a melancholy feeling as well. Perhaps I’m just programmed to sleep as a way to escape reality.)
I’m by no means a therapist (although my many years of therapy do have me confident that I’m quite attuned to why I feel how I feel, what triggers and/or activates me, handy mindfulness tools to get me out of my own way, and knowing, in an instant, when I need some serious self-care time … but we’ll save all this for a different post). I only bring it up because my napping and my mental well-being have one glaring similarity: the propensity for me to feel shame around both.
That’s a rhetorical question, really. The answer is simple: it’s societal conditioning. Napping seems to get a bad rap in the United States. It’s equated with laziness or boredom or a myriad of other adjectives that put a negative spin on a very natural need: to rest and reset.
So when my eyelids feel weighted and my mind can’t seem to focus, I lie down, close my eyes, and fall into a blissful slumber. I tell myself that I’m listening to my body—which I am, because, honestly, I’m tired.
Babies nap. My niece takes one daily. My dad, at 80, loves a long, peaceful afternoon snooze. I lived in Florence, Italy, for a semester in college and I vividly remember stores and restaurants shutting down midday for what they deemed a “siesta.” No shame in the napping game over there. In fact, it’s encouraged: eat a long lunch, have a glass of wine, nap. Wake up refreshed and anew.
But here in America, we’re taught that, yes, children and the elderly can nap, but everyone else—well, we should work 60-hour weeks, and we can sleep when we’re dead. The focal point tends to be on doing, doing, doing—and not at all on enjoying. We run ourselves ragged—succeeding at work, being a consummate role model to our kids, a perfect partner, sister, daughter, and friend. But where, may I ask, is the “me” time? Sure, it may sound selfish if you haven’t taken me time before, but in actuality, me time makes you a better colleague, student, mother, friend, partner, daughter, etc. I’ve learned that if I hide the fact that I nap, I seem to be able to circumvent the obnoxious rhetoric that inevitably comes along with my daily ritual, which leads me to the shame: I keep this secret so I don’t have to deal with haters hating on my body’s needs.
I find napping to be incredibly cathartic. Sometimes I meditate before my midday shut-eye. Then as I fall asleep, I find myself in a deeper state of REM, which does wonders for my anxious thoughts. I ready myself by turning off the phone, lying down, closing my eyes, and finding that place of inner stillness. It’s as though I’ve had a blaring radio on for hours, but it’s not even playing any particular music. Instead, it’s caught in between stations going in and out of multiple songs. Pure chaos. Well, by napping, I’m finally shutting it off and giving myself the greatest midday gift: silence.
It’s been said that the human body needs eight hours of sleep a night. Some people obviously need less and others need more. I fall into the latter, and while I’ve been made to feel high maintenance for listening to my body, I also know that stress (which can stem from fatigue, shame, anxiety, and a myriad of other not-so-great-for-you inherent behaviors) is like a cancer to my system. When I nap, I tend to get more done in a day, even with my two-hour snooze, than most others do in a 10-hour period—because I’m allowing my body the time it deserves to recharge. Therefore, I have better brain function, gut function, creativity, mood, and overall health … I wake up with new ideas, a more positive attitude, the ability to put the small stuff into perspective, and significantly less stress.
Full disclosure: I usually nap at 7 p.m. Horrible, I know. It’s ruined my entire sleeping schedule, because I wake up by 9 p.m. and I am UP. Then I don’t fall asleep again until 2 or 3 a.m. (usually with some type of sleep aid, like The VP x Poosh Pink Moon Milk Latte), and then my nighttime sleep isn’t as blissful as the actual nap. It’s a vicious cycle. In high school, I’d nap after class (usually around 3 p.m.); in college, in between classes or whenever I could catch some shut-eye; in grad school, I started napping at the end of the day—as if the day was so mentally draining that only by shutting my eyes could I find some sort of peace. Then I’d wake up early evening and—well, back then I’d go clubbing or something. These days, it’s Netflix or doom scrolling (note to self: not good for mental health or sleep!). This is all to say that the time of day you nap is just as important as the nap itself. Midday is prime time.
Granted, I don’t have kids—I know a nap can seem like a foregone dream for parents, but I truly believe that what you know will serve you to be your best self, you must find time for. Even if it’s just 10 minutes to reboot and recharge. You must honor this internal need. We all ebb and flow, sometimes desiring more or less rest. I’m in a state of pure exhaustion as of late, as if I have just been slapped with a debilitating tranquilizer. This is my personal experience, of course, and every body and brain is different, but I will say, look at any country that honors siesta as part of its culture, and tell me that those people don’t seem so much happier, so much more carefree, easygoing, kinder, more positive. Perhaps there really is something in the science of napping and its effect on the mind and body, after all? At the very least, it’s all about setting boundaries and enjoying the quiet time, too. And yes, WE ALL DESERVE THAT MOMENT (OR HOUR) TO TRULY EXHALE.
So here I am: finally admitting it, loud and proud: I am a napper. Don’t hit me up between 1 and 3 p.m. I’m dedicating this as my new siesta hours. There’s no shame in my napping game.