In the two years since my daughter died, I’ve taken a nap almost every day. I work from home and I’m grateful for this luxury. But, I’m also kind of embarrassed about my daily napping habit. It feels self-indulgent and lazy to give in to this particular temptation every day.
I think I’ve been looking at it the wrong way though. My naps help me in many ways and it’s time I stopped hiding them.
Thus, I’m writing this as part confessional and part manifesto — from a napper who loves her naps. Napping is a habit I’m trying to embrace, even celebrate, because it keeps me functioning. It has become a way for me to honor the time I need to recharge my mind and body.
I’m an extremely early riser even on weekends or summer days that don’t require scraping my teenager out of bed at the crack of dawn.
I wake up naturally between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m. without the need for an alarm. Regardless of when I go to bed at night, I always get up at this time. My husband and daughter are both late risers who rarely go to sleep before midnight. Both of them can easily sleep until 10 or 11 the next morning.
It’s not unusual for me to be up for three or four hours before either of them poke their heads out into the sunlight, particularly on weekends. This amounts to very long, lonely mornings.
I used to fantasize about having this much time to myself. Ten years ago when my girls were small, mornings were all about them. It was a luxury to sneak out for a couple of hours each morning to ride my bike or go to the gym. Now, I have ample time to do these things (and more!) but this time to myself feels more like a burden. Sadness adds weight to every hour, exhausting me.
By noon on most days, I’ve already been up for six hours — mostly on my own. By one o’clock, I’m physically and emotionally drained. That’s why many days I lie down to take a 30 to 60 minute nap. It’s like I’m an old cell phone that can’t keep my charge — I need the time to fill up my battery.
I’m self-employed and work from home, so I have the luxury of creating a schedule that works for me.
When my kids were little, that generally meant shaping my days around their school schedules and figuring out how to get work done during the summer (in between chaperoning play dates, trips to the pool, and helping them combat boredom).
But now, much of the day is my own. My older daughter is gone. My younger daughter is 15. I have, perhaps, too much time. Napping helps me manage this, and is a particularly powerful way to take a break from the many screens I stare at throughout the day.
When I take a solid thirty minute nap, I feel recharged. When I take a successful sixty minute nap, I feel completely rejuvenated.
I’ve learned that if I try to push myself to be productive when my mental battery is drained, I actually get less done then if I stop to rest. It’s hard to admit this. I spent so many years denying this need or being embarrassed by it, but the truth is that I’ve always loved and craved an afternoon nap.
For me, a nap is necessary to help me cope with the range of feelings I encounter on any given day. I miss my daughter and the constant longing for her, and my perpetual sadness, are extremely exhausting. It’s the mental equivalent of lugging a backpack full of bricks around all day.
Taking a nap gives me some relief from this burden of grief. It is as critical to my ability to function as taking walks at my favorite nature preserve. It splits my day in half, making it more manageable.
But, not all napping is healthy napping, at least in my case. I’ve always been a bit prone to depression and anxiety, particularly when I’m under stress. Grief is stress. It’s not the same kind of stress I experienced when my daughter was in treatment or when she was dying — fueled by adrenaline — but it’s just as destructive.
Since my daughter died, nothing feels right. I’m constantly trying to find my way back to some semblance of normalcy, but there is a wrongness to my days that I can’t fix. This feeling of wrongness brings with it some dark, depressing thoughts.
When I crawl into bed to take a nap with these kinds of thoughts floating around in my head, the nap can become toxic. It can become too frequent, too long — a harmful crutch rather than a restorative tool. T
his happened the first summer after my daughter died when the days were absolutely endless and I found myself in bed more than not. Luckily, my husband and my younger daughter noticed and they pried me out of bed (over and over again) that summer. I’m learning to recognize healthy naps versus crippling lethargy, the kind that accompanies depression. This has helped me focus on healthy naps versus napping to avoid participating in life.
I will always love naps and that’s okay. I’m learning to embrace my daily nap in a way that’s healthy and positive. I’m doing this by making sure I don’t sleep for more than an hour, that my naps don’t interfere with work or negatively impact my relationships, and by reframing my own bias around what it means to sleep in the middle of the day.
I used to feel guilty when I took a nap. It seemed so selfish, like a dark secret that, if revealed, would prove I was lazy or weak. But when I started to analyze my naps, particularly with the help of a fitness band that tracks my sleep patterns, I realized that I don’t sleep more than 6 or 7 hours most days, even when I nap.
My body and mind need the nap — more than coffee, or mindless Facebook scrolling, or the kind of nonproductive “busy” work that happens when I don’t take a break.
Napping helped me return to work after my daughter died. It’s helping me process my grief. It’s given me much-needed time to recharge and, best of all, it’s teaching me how to embrace the importance of self-care without guilt.