The Joys and Pitfalls of Napping

A cute cat in the middle of a napI truly envy people who can survive on a few hours of sleep and for whom “nap” is a four letter word.

I envy them because I am sure that the items on their to-do lists are crossed out more quickly than folks like me who need their minimum seven hours each night and for whom naps are a precious weekend indulgence (or sometimes necessity, as the case may be).

It’s not a question of laziness, nor do I suffer from depression. I just happen to enjoy that feeling of fading out for a bit and waking up renewed and refreshed with the energy of a four-year-old on a sugar rush. It’s like having two opportunities in the same day to jump out of bed and yell “yippee!!” (yes, I admit that I am a bit of a morning person).

Interestingly enough, I really wasn’t a fan of naps in my pre-school years. But as an adult, I yearn for them and I enjoy them.

When I hear that “older” people don’t need as much sleep, I conclude that at 56, I mustn’t be “older” yet since a cozy nap with the cat (who uses my right arm as a body pillow) is a fairly regular occurrence. When that happens, I savour every moment.

The big questions: when a nap is imminent, do I set the alarm or do I let the nap go as long as I need? And if I do, will it adversely affect my bedtime?
There seems to be an algorithm for that:

Over the years, I have found that when I was under the weather or trying to shake off a bug of some kind, it seemed like any amount of napping didn’t affect that night’s sleep, so I just went for it. No alarm was needed.

Similarly, naps have been appreciated when I have engaged in some physically demanding tasks around the house and garden. Napping has also been my friend when I have been steadily working out. When a short nap serves a recuperative or restorative purpose like that, it tends not to have any negative impacts on my bedtime. No alarm is needed.

On the weekend, twenty to thirty minutes in the early afternoon seemed to be the sweet spot of napping for me. Any longer or any later could jeopardize my seemingly fragile sleep routine. In this case, setting the alarm is advisable (as long as the cat has not already fallen asleep while using my arm as her body pillow again, thus making it impossible to set the alarm).

But who hasn’t accidentally nodded off at one time or another, and then spent the night looking at the alarm clock, recalculating like a GPS the number of hours of sleep that potentially remains. Who hasn’t found themselves reviewing their morning routine, editing down to just the essentials, to try to stay in bed longer to make up for it?

When I was working, taking a nap after work was the kiss of death. A nap would be a guaranteed ticket to a night up watching the Late Show, the Late Late Show and then channel surfing through infomercials.

As much as I love my coffee and tea as a little caffeine boost to try the offset the effects of a short night, having a little too much caffeine to make it through the day leads to another short night, then more caffeine is needed, then another short night… it’s a vicious cycle.

What is it about late fall, when it starts getting dark around 4 pm, that resisting the urge to nap feels like we are going against Mother Nature? I remember several afternoon commutes by bus at that time of year, when trying to stay awake (and not miss my stop) was a major struggle.

Now, a few months into retirement, I am surprised that my routine and my appreciation for naps has not changed much.

Through most of my adult years, sleeping in hasn’t been my thing. With a cat that insists on breakfast somewhere between 6:00 and 6:30 am every morning, I’d rather wake up, feed her and get started on my day. I seem more productive in the morning anyway, especially when it comes to my writing. That being the case, I’d rather start the day early, do what I have to do, and have some rest time (potentially, a nap) in the early afternoon.

However, the absolute cut off for napping for me seems to be 3:00 p.m. Otherwise, my body clock may get a little screwed up. But then again, in retirement, unless I have an appointment the next day (and there aren’t many these days) does it really matter?

Just the same, whether long or short in duration, to me, naps are the ultimate luxury in relaxation and self-care, as a break from “doing”, to enjoy time just “being”.

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Filed under 50+, Health and Wellness

4 responses to “The Joys and Pitfalls of Napping

  1. 3pm is my cutoff point for naps, too, if I want to sleep well that night.

    Well, unless I’m sick. When I had pneumonia years ago, I slept for three hours in the afternoon, woke up for dinner, and then slept 12+ hours overnight.

    But that’s pretty unusual. 🙂

    • Hi Lydia,
      It sounds like we are on the same wave length in that regard!
      I agree, with illness, it seems that if the body needs the rest to properly recover, the napping doesn’t seem to interfere with a good night’s sleep.
      Thank you for taking the time to comment and for sharing.

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