This is the story of Ms. Crankypants.
Ms. Crankypants is actually a lovely person. She’s kind and generous. She’s a devoted wife and caretaker. She’s conscientious and reliable.
More and more frequently, Ms. Crankypants snaps at her husband for no good reason. She forgets important appointments or tasks. She frequently loses her patience at work, and just the other day handled a sensitive situation badly because she JUST COULDN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE.
By the end of each day she’s so exhausted that she self-soothes with snacks, a “just to take the edge off” drink or two or twelve and binge-watching Netflix. She heads to bed, where she sleeps poorly; tossing and turning for much of the night and losing precious hours of sleep.
The next day feels a lot like the previous one. Ms. Crankypants is feeling more depressed, unmotivated and stuck by the day.
Lack of sleep could be a big part of the problem.
Our culture is sleep-deprived. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that “over one-third of the adult population in the U.S. sleeps less than the recommended minimum of 7 hours each night.”
Sleep loss contributes to depression, lack of motivation, and irritability among other things. Tasks that are already difficult - like effectively managing our time or mood – become even more difficult when we’re tired.
This article, though, isn’t about how to get more sleep at night. A lot has been published in recent years about the importance of prioritizing sleep and how to practice good sleep hygiene. This is all important stuff, and worth paying attention to.
But I’m an insomniac myself and have tried many strategies to consistently sleep through the night. So far, I haven’t found the magic formula that works for me (though I intend to keep trying).
The truth is that we can’t always control how well we sleep at night. Maybe you’re the parent of a newborn, a classic insomniac like me, or going through a stressful period in life that keeps you up at night. We’re pretty resilient creatures, and most of us can handle a few nights of poor sleep without falling apart. But speaking for myself, after several nights of poor sleep I’m ready to cry crocodile tears into my morning coffee when. . . well, just because.
Here, friends, is where I sing the praises of THE NAP.
It may surprise you to know that sleeping for short periods throughout the day may bring us closer to our biological roots. It turns out that “more than 85% of mammalian species... sleep for short periods throughout the day.”
Naps can improve your mood as well as increase alertness and productivity. In one study NASA pilots who took naps improved both their performance and alertness significantly.
Famous overachievers and multi-taskers like Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Margaret Thatcher took naps, and no-one called them slackers. It’s said that JFK “would eat his lunch in bed and then settle down for a nap. He would have his valet draw the drapes and ask not to be disturbed unless it was a true emergency.” I mean, if it’s good enough for the president...
Naps aren’t a panacea, of course. (Churchill, for example, was still a crank even with his daily nap, though this likely had more to do with the travails of parliamentary politics and World War II – and his daily bottle of whiskey probably didn’t help.)
But global disasters aside, naps can boost your mood, improve alertness, and give you a much-needed break in your day. In short, they can make life more manageable and enjoyable even - perhaps especially - when you aren’t sleeping through the night.
Some studies show that short naps of 10-20 minutes are best, while other sources say 20-30 minutes is ideal. Still others say that longer naps of 40-45 minutes are most beneficial. Your ideal nap practice will be unique to you, taking into consideration practical things like your work schedule and family responsibilities, as well as what nap length gives you the most benefit.
“Taking naps sounds so childish. I prefer to call them horizontal life pauses.” - unknown
There are, however, a few napping tips I’ll pass along…
Nap at a time that works best for you. This may be in the middle of the day (on a work from home day or on the weekend) or a quick snooze before getting dinner ready.
Be practical, but make rest a priority. Though a recent article in the New York Times advocated napping at work to boost performance and alertness, this trend likely hasn’t caught on yet at your workplace. While napping on the job might be impractical, work from home days and weekends are awesome opportunities to sneak in a nap.
When working from home, take your lunch break, let office-mates know you’ll be unavailable during this time, and grab your blankie. Or schedule a nap on Saturday or Sunday (or both) right alongside errands, the kid’s soccer games, and the usual weekend fun.
Use environmental triggers to your advantage. We’re incredibly sensitive to environmental cues. As such, nap “triggers” can help you both initiate a napping routine and prompt you to fall asleep. Designate a certain nap spot, have a blanket you use only for naps, and listen to a certain soundscape (like nature sounds played on your phone). These practices can cue your mind and body to take a break.
While napping isn’t a panacea for sleep deprivation, it can make an appreciable difference in our performance and mood.
Far from making you weak, childish, or not up to the job, napping is a smart strategy that can improve the quality of your work and personal life. As writer Tom Hodkingson puts it, “When the going gets tough, the tough take a nap”.
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