PSA: The Power of the Nap

I was never much of a nap taker. Sleep was, in my opinion as a teen and 20-something, overrated. A waste of time.

Then I had children.

When Flora was born, the piece of advice that I got and took to heart was: Sleep when the baby sleeps.

This came in handy, especially when the baby decided 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. was party time. Although there were still nights that I handed her off to her dad to rock, while I crashed for a couple of hours before she definitively needed feeding again.

The only problem with this practice was that I slept instead of eating. My weight plunged after Flora was born. When she was about 6 or 9 months old, I got sick. I went to the doctor to make sure I didn’t have something I could pass onto the baby through my milk.

I remember standing on the scale with the doctor behind me, staring in wonder at my weight. I heard the doc clear his throat before he said, clearly reaching for a diplomatic tone, “You seem to be a little underweight for your height. And the fact that you’re a breast feeding mother.”

It was the medical equivalent of, “Eat a cheeseburger, for goodness sake!”

I was 116 pounds.

When I shared this information with my mother, she asked, “Well, how many calories are you taking in?”

I had no clue. I’ve never counted calories in my life. My mom suggested I try a couple of things to get more calories (trail mix as a snack, putting cheese on my garden burger, eating five times a day, chocolate. I love my mom), put on some weight, and still ensure that I could nap if and when I needed to.

When Kate was born, I discovered a super power: I could will myself to sleep. If Flora was napping (or sleeping at night, or, let’s be honest here, occupied safely in her room with a Little Einstein video), and Kate was also sleeping, I could lay down and be unconscious in about 5 minutes. Kate, God bless her, was a round-the-clock sleeper her first four or five months. She would sleep 3 to 4 hours at a clip, waking up to be changed and fed, and right back to sleep she would go. (Except for those clusterfeedings around 2 months.) When she started being more awake, she decided that day time was a much better time to check out the world, thank heavens.

I have recently rediscovered my super power. (Don’t ask about napping when Michael was born. Flora and Kate were 4 and 6, plus I went back to work full time when he was 3 months old. Naps were nearly unheard of.) The past two Sundays, I have lain myself down in the afternoon when M is napping, and fallen asleep for 30-40 minutes.

It’s been heavenly. I have missed napping. This past Sunday, it was especially vital, because of Daylight Saving Time (and a, er, um, late Saturday night with lots of wine).

My point being: Don’t be disdainful of the nap. Naps are gorgeous, gorgeous things. Especially if you can get to sleep quickly and take a short “power nap” (20 to 30 minutes). There are probably studies out there that prove this point, but take my word for it. Especially if you are going to parent someday, learning to nap is vital. It will keep you sane.

Steps to napping:
1. Lay down in a quiet, darkened room.
2. Empty your mind — this probably takes the most practice. Forget about the chores, the thank you notes you need to write, the dinner you could start. All that will be there when you wake up.
3. If you are a new parent/mom, and aren’t sleeping for long stretches anyway, you have my permission to sleep until the baby wakes up again. This also applies if you are sick. Sleep is a cure; do it for as long as your body will let you.
4. Otherwise, try to limit your nap to 30 minutes. If you nap for an hour or two, you’re totally going to throw yourself off, and you probably won’t be able to fall asleep at bed time.

Naps, like hangovers, change once you have children. A hangover can be nursed over the course of a long, lazy day when you are single or childfree. Not so when you have children. Children do not know from hangovers, trust me. Naps, when you are a sleep-deprived parent, become an almost holy experience. You will yearn for one like you probably used to yearn for food or sex.

And, as they say, practice makes perfect! If you learn how to nap now, it will serve you well when you need it most.

Are you down with the nap? Or is sleep a waste of time?