If there’s one thing I’m excellent at, it’s taking long naps. My fiancé says that he’s never met anyone who slept as much as I did, and I take that as a compliment. I’ve napped after lunch, before lunch, after my evening coffee, post dinner and pre-bedtime – you get the picture. And a nap has often been exactly what I needed to shake off a spell of writer’s lethargy and get to work.
All said and done, though, there is such a thing as too much sleep. Our bodies often keep us in the land of Nod much longer than we need to be, and the consequences are, well, not nice. I tend to be completely disoriented after too long a nap, which means I drift around for a few hours trying to find something to focus on, work myself up about how worthless I am and then just end up going back to bed. That kind of nap usually happens if I didn’t get much sleep the previous night, which explains things but doesn’t solve them. I’m still cranky. I’m still exhausted. And I’m still going to not keep any resolutions about waking up extra early to compensate.
Which means, the writing ain’t happening as it should.
Now let’s get one thing out of the way – everyone’s sleep needs are different. Maybe one person can power through all day on seven hours of sleep at night, maybe someone else needs to recharge a couple times a day. And if you’re the kind of person who needs naps, well, that’s who you are and that’s how you should be.
I hazard, though, that you wouldn’t be reading this post if you were 100% sure about needing daily naps. You’re probably more like me – fond of napping, aware of the benefits it can have, but prone to over-long naps and the guilt that follows.
So how do you move from excessive napping – the kind that makes you feel like you’re made of lead when you wake up – to naps that leave you feeling healthier and more pumped and do, in fact, live up to the ‘power’ appendage?
The first thing you need to do is to identify a threshold level of sleepiness that merits you taking a nap. If you’re just feeling drowsy after a heavy lunch, consider shaking it off with a walk or a cup of coffee. You could even put on some catchy music and dance a little. About fifteen minutes of this should get rid of mild drowsiness – and if it persists, maybe you do really need some shuteye.
Next, decide on how long you would like your nap to last. Are you okay with a ten-minute nap? Or do you need half an hour to recharge properly? This depends on your body’s needs, but I wouldn’t recommend keeping power naps longer than 40 minutes – especially if you plan to take more than one through the day. Because if you overdo your nap, you’ll wake up feeling groggy and irritable and guilty about having lost so much time – and you don’t need me to tell you that that’s not fun. If you’re prone to oversleeping, definitely set an alarm – as loud an annoying an alarm as possible. Or ask someone at home to wake you up after a specified time. (You’ll need to ensure, naturally, that they don’t fall asleep too – or that they’re better at waking themselves up than you are.)
And if you do overnap? Apart from moping for the rest of the day, you have two options. The first is to make up for it by staying awake till later at night. This is usually what I do, and as a night owl it works. But if your schedule doesn’t allow you to stay up too late, here’s what you do – swallow your pride, be as productive as possible for the rest of the day and tell yourself that you’ll do better tomorrow. Is this hard? Massively. But sometimes, things just are. And as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, you can’t reclaim lost hours, but you do have a shot at making the most of hours yet to come.
Plus, here’s a kinder way of looking at overnapping. If you were asleep for all that time, maybe you were more tired than you realised. Maybe your body needed that extra rest. If so, there’s nothing to feel bad about – you were just responding to your body’s need for sleep, and now you’re ready to work harder for longer. And maybe it’s a sign that you need to get more sleep in at night, so that you don’t need quite as much rest during the day.
Bottom line? Nap as much as you need to, not a minute longer, and you’ll have no reason to feel bad about that postprandial snooze. And if for some reason you’re determined to not give in to the napping urge, why, there’s always coffee. I prefer to not see the two as rivals – I see them as friends, to be had in turns. Which do you prefer? Drop a comment, let me know.