As a child, I never napped. I vaguely remember my mother telling me that naps were good for me, but I never saw the need, and my mother eventually stopped telling me. I didn’t like the way I felt when I woke up from a nap (groggy and fuzzy), so I just slept at night, when I slept. If I didn’t get enough sleep one night, there was another night or even a weekend coming up. Life was too interesting to spend it sleeping during the day. That was for invalids or people who didn’t have anything better to do.
My perspective changed dramatically after my first child was born. He didn’t seem to like sleeping at night for some strange reason. Perhaps being an infant had something to do with it. I found myself living in a shadow world, never quite awake or asleep, and having more responsibility than I’d ever dreamed of. This continued over the next few years, with the birth of three more children. Naps are a powerful tool for mothers, and learning how to effectively wield this tool can make the job of motherhood much less stressful and much more enjoyable.
Yet I found myself in fear of being discovered, afraid that others would judge me as harshly as I myself had in the past. No more. Perhaps the sharing of my secret will bring others out into the bright sunshine of life from the shadows of sleep deprivation, and so I present these tips, won by hard experience over the last twelve years, on the art of the nap.
*Something that’s not mentioned very often is the hardness of young babies’ and children’s heads. That, combined with their inability to control their necks well, essentially creates a situation where you’re being hit in the mouth, the nose and other areas of your head with the equivalent of a small bowling ball when children are trying to be affectionate. Sometimes children will find your painful reaction funny, and will sometimes head-butt you on purpose when your head is within reach, such as when you’re lying down. In order to nap without receiving a concussion or a bloody nose, you must compensate. I learned to sleep with my arms wrapped around my head, or with a pillow over my head and my abdomen, since jumping on your soft middle during your nap is the second most favorite pastime of children. Wearing a helmet during a nap, as silly as it sounds, is actually workable, unless you get claustrophobic from having the face shield down. It’s worth experimenting on your own to see what you need to do to protect yourself when you’re most vulnerable.
*Watch yourself for signs that you need a nap. When it’s difficult to focus on anything, or when you find yourself yelling and then asking yourself if yelling was really necessary…those are some common signs that you’re overtired. Your signs may be different, but if you watch yourself, you’ll start to see a pattern emerging. It may be helpful to write down your moods in a notebook for a week or so, until you’re more aware of your own feelings. If you’re not sure and you can’t find any patterns, try setting aside a convenient time of day where you automatically nap whether you feel tired or not. See if it makes a difference.
*Get in and get out – shorter naps are often better. If you can get by with a short nap of 15-20 minutes, you’ll wake up with energy and without that groggy hangover feeling. Setting a timer is a good idea if you can do it. That way, you can wake up at a certain time and gauge if you need more sleep or not. I have been known to take naps of an hour or more when I’ve been severely sleep-deprived, but it’s my opinion that multiple smaller naps are better if your schedule allows it. Naps for 30 minutes or longer tend to be harder to wake from.
*Have a quick snack on hard to get your blood flowing again, something small and nutritious. Some fruit juice is good, or a small sandwich or cut vegetables. If you can do some stretches or a workout after a nap, that works great, and doesn’t put on weight.
*Break out the electronic babysitter. Don’t worry about warping your kids in this regard. You won’t need to use it for long. Put on a video or DVD so you know what they’ll be watching. If there’s no one around to help keep them safe, they’re safer sitting in one place, watching a show, than wandering around the house while you’re sleeping. If you can, withhold any and all shows until the time when you need a nap. They’ll be sure to stay put. Sleeping on the floor can help if they are little, and if you can physically handle it. Perhaps a mat or a sleeping bag on the floor would make things more confortable. The children are more likely to stay with you if you’re close to their level. Mommies are magnetic for their young children. Use that to your advantage.
*When baby is new, sleep whenever the baby sleeps, whenever you can. Sometimes, after you’ve had a baby, you may feel more energetic than normal. That’s adrenaline, and you’ll start to wear down quickly if you continually push forward on adrenaline. Start to pace yourself right from the beginning. You have a baby now. You will not be able to accomplish as much outwardly as you did before, but you have more important work to do now. Children grow up quickly enough, and you will accomplish things again. For now, get some rest.
*Childproof. Get down on the floor and think what your children could get hold of while you’re sleeping. Be creative – your children will be too. Are there small chairs or stools that your child could drag to a cabinet or kitchen counter and get higher? My four-year-old son can reach the cabinet over the refrigerator if there’s candy in there. He just needs a chair to get to the kitchen counter. Never underestimate your kids. Leave some small snacks, coloring books, etc. out for them to distract them from mischief.
*I had to work in an office for a year when I had two small children at home. The need for naps doesn’t go away when you’re away from home, but your opportunity can be less. Keep to a regular bedtime as much as possible if you work outside the home. When your child is small, sometimes letting them sleep with you is a feasible option. I had our daughter sleep with me in my bed strictly so that I could get some sleep. At work, find a safe place to sack out. My boss had a couch in her office, and she would close the door and nap for 15-20 minutes on her lunch hour. Some of my co-workers would nap in the back seat of their car when they needed to. (Caveat here: Always consider your safety when you attempt something like this. Tinted windows and locked doors are a girl’s best friend in cases such as these, and then only if your car is in a secure area.)
*Here’s my deepest, darkest napping secret, but one I’m glad I thought of. A corner bathroom stall makes a great place for a nap. There was a bathroom in my office that was never particularly busy. I would take my purse or my coat into the bathroom and sit down. My long hair was pulled back into a ponytail, so it wouldn’t hang down and give me away. With coat or purse as a pillow on my knees, I would doze for about 15-20 minutes. No one seemed the wiser, and I always left with much more energy. If I snored, no one said anything to me about it. Yes, I was desperate, but it worked. You may not have to stoop so far yourself, but that’s the essence of guerilla napping…do whatever works.
*Kids are naturally resistant to naps. Mine always were, until I laid down myself. My kids loved an opportunity to snuggle, and lying down on the couch surrounded by warm, soft kids is as good as a sleeping pill. Better still, they’ll tend to sleep longer than you will, so you’ll have a few minutes to yourself afterward. It benefits everyone.
I’ve tried to write this article in a light tone, but this is no light topic. We all lead busy lives, but there’s also a time to rest. Lack of sleep makes us dangerous behind the wheel of a car. Fatigue, exhaustion, depression, sadness, stress and excessive anger are not good conditions to live your life under, especially when you’re in charge of molding young lives that will follow your example. Do us all a favor, and get some sleep.
Napping is a necessary skill for stay-at-home mothers, and a survival skill for working moms. It is a lifestyle that yields great rewards. Never be ashamed of needing extra sleep. So does one out of every two people you meet in this country. You’re not alone. Give it a try. Your overworked, stressed-out body will thank you. Your family will thank you. It can even be fun – go for it!