When I had small children, I never understood why they fought nap time. I always thought to myself “If someone would tell me to take a nap everyday, I’d love it…I’d never fight it!” Of course, this was from the perspective of a normal, healthy, energetic, busy, efficient, successful mother of two young children.
Several years later, I’m a far cry from that person. I’ve described how I have to cut things out of my life – and choose between things that I shouldn’t have to choose between – in order to have enough energy to function throughout a day. I’ve talked about the realities of trying to maintain a successful career with autoimmune disease.
But I haven’t talked about my naps. I feel like it’s a dirty little secret. I feel like if I told people how often I take naps they would all look at me with either envy or judgment.
Envy would be from those busy mothers of young children that would love the time to take a leisurely nap in the afternoon. But really, I don’t think it’s the nap per-say (at least as long as you’re getting a full night sleep – which I was as that was at the point since my kids both slept through the night and allowed me a full 8 hours of sleep at night) that most would be jealous of. It’s more the idea that you have “free time” in which you could choose to take a nap. Guilt-free ability to use time in any way you wish – and if that way happens to be a nap, then so be it. I think that’s what I was wishing for when thinking I’d love to have mandated nap time each day as I watched my toddlers fight it – the block of time when I had no other requirements…just time to “waste” and have zero guilt or shame associated with it.
Judgment would be from everyone else that is tired, too, but keeps on going throughout their day and makes it to the end without taking a nap, during which their other duties are being shirked. That judgment, coming from my own self, is what kept me from taking naps when my kids did in those early days of motherhood – I can’t take a nap…I have laundry to do, a kitchen to clean, toys to put away before they wake up and drag them all out again, work to do, etc. What kind of mother, wife and graduate student/science education writer/”all the other career things I was working on” person would I be if I chose to take a nap over some of the other things I needed to get done?
My desire to take those naps all those years ago had more to do with the luxurious feeling of taking time for a leisurely nap and less to do with the actual fatigue of my body (again – this was once I got past late night feedings and other sleep-depriving moments of early motherhood).
I’ve always been a person that needed a full night sleep to feel good. I was never someone that could routinely function on little sleep. But not it’s a whole new level of fatigue.
For example, I slept 9 hours last night (11pm – 8am). I then slept from 10:30am-12:30pm. That’s 11 hours of sleep – almost half my day. That 10:30am nap was because I literally could not stay awake any longer. I was trying to work. I got to the point where my brain wasn’t able to concentrate on the work that I needed to do. It was a physical fatigue that was definitely affecting my ability to concentrate and work.
The best way I can describe it to people is like the fatigue in early pregnancy. That feeling of your body is heavy and is pulling you down into sleep and you simply can’t fight it any more. It’s definitely not a “I think I’ll go take a nap” moment because I’m bored, procrastinating, don’t feel like doing any of the things I need to do or any other reason. It’s a deep physical need to sleep.
And it’s hard to wake up. You’d think after 9 hours of sleep and 2 hours of napping that I’d wake up refreshed. Wrong. It’s like dragging myself up from deep underwater with cement blocks tied to my feet. I have to will myself to wake up and get up. I probably could have slept for another 3 hours but I simply have to get something done today.
When I took naps for other reasons (boredom, leisure, procrastination, etc.) in years past, I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep that night. My body had slept the previous night, and during the nap the day and I simply wasn’t tired when I went to bed that night. Then I’d want a nap the next day because I hadn’t slept well that night and I’d make myself fight through it to get back on a regular night-time sleeping pattern. That’s simply not the case now. I’ll fall asleep tonight and sleep another 9 hours without any problem at all – despite the 11 hours of sleep I got last night and today.
I can fight it for the short term. I can go a couple of days without napping if I simply have to – if work, or doctor’s appointments, or kids’ activities simply requires it and there’s no way to meet these minimum requirements of my daily life while addressing the fatigue when it hits each day. But I can’t sustain that long. My body will pay for those days of pushing through.
And this is why I often have to choose between things, why I’m having to give things up, why I have immense guilt at not being the best wife, mother, friend, worker, etc., as I know I could, should and want to be – because I have such a deep, physical fatigue that I just can’t ignore.
If you compare the 8-hour per day sleep that is recommended with my 11 hour sleep last night/today, over the course of a year that’s an extra 1095 hours of sleep I’ll be getting. That’s 45.6 days. Do you have any idea what I could do with those 45 days if I could get them back? I have goals. I have careers ideas and plans. I have the desire to clean my house. I want to have energy and time to play with my kids and hang out with my husband. I’d do just about anything to have those 45 days back this year.
So, please don’t ever say to someone struggling with chronic fatigue things like “I wish I could lay around and rest or take naps every day” or “Must be nice to take that time for yourself each day” or “My day makes me tired, too, but I have too much to do with my family/work/etc. to take time out.”
Because, trust me, the daily naps aren’t fun. Their riddled with self-imposed guilt and judgement, as well as the fear of external judgement. They are filled with heartache at what I know I’m missing because of them. They force me to give up things that I love, want and need to do. If I could have my busy, hectic, non-stop life back, I would give up these daily naps in a heartbeat. They are not leisurely, luxurious or pleasurable. They are not fun.