One of the first things you hear when you get pregnant is something along the lines of “kiss your bed goodbye” or “sleep now, while you can.” Once you’re in the mommy trenches, you’re expected to wear your exhaustion as a badge of honor. Who drinks the most coffee, how soon after getting out of bed, and how soon thereafter are you pouring a second cup? How many Starbucks baristas know your name? Whose kid wakes up the earliest or the most frequently? It’s become an expectation that we are slogging through life on caffeine and fumes, but I’ll let you in on my dirty little secret.
I’m not usually all that tired, and here’s why: NAPS. And I’m not talking about my kids’ naps.
As adults, and as parents, we need sleep. Getting enough sleep makes you a happier, healthier, and more functional human being. Of course by the time we wrangle our little cherubs into bed we just want some time to get our fill of Netflix, read a book without pictures, or maybe have some quality time with our significant other or friends. We know we should go to bed earlier, but the allure of quiet without interruption can be too great. So we stay up too late and wake up too early — rinse and repeat.
I don’t like how I feel when I function too long on less than optimal amounts of sleep, so I ditched the shame and guilt, and feelings of laziness, and embraced the nap instead.
We prioritize the things that we value most. We assign value based on how things make us feel, or what they bring to our lives. So why would we NOT prioritize sleep? It’s as much a part of a healthy lifestyle as diet and exercise are. Reaching deep sleep gives your body the opportunity to rebuild your supply of neurotransmitters that help all of your body systems communicate with one another effectively. A short nap (30-40 minutes) can improve alertness, decision-making, and response time hours after. While it may feel like a midday nap is halting your productivity, it often helps one resume tasks with more focus and energy when you wake. Conversely, lack of sleep leads to a build up of cortisol, the stress hormone responsible for the flight-or-flight response in the body, which can contribute to glucose intolerance and abdominal fat, and weaken the muscular and immune systems. When you sleep, even just for a short time, you produce extra growth hormone which gives your body time to recover and heal, and even primes your sexual function! Good quality and quantity of sleep has even been linked to lowered risk of heart disease.
Sometimes prioritizing one thing means you may have to let go of others. As I mentioned, a stigma of laziness accompanies the idea of taking naps. I am willing to let dishes sit in my sink or toys remain scattered on the living room floor for an extra hour if it means I can go into the dreaded pre-dinner witching hour with a little more energy and patience for both my kids and myself. There are days where that’s not an option, and other priorities usurp the time I would set aside for a nap, but just giving myself the permission to rest when I need to, want to, and can has been refreshing.