If you’re eating well and exercising, but everything feels like a bigger deal than usual, you may need a nap. You may need more than a single nap. You may need more sleep on a regular basis. If you’re under a significant amount of ongoing stress, you may need a good night’s sleep, a nap, and additional down time.
My father-in-law swore by the 20-minute power nap. One of only 3 physicians in a town of 7000, he worked long hours. Every day at lunch, he’d come home to eat and then sleep in his recliner for 20 minutes. He didn’t set an alarm. He just woke up ready to go back to the clinic. He seemed to take the long hours in stride, so I guess naps worked for him.
Each of us has individual sleep needs. A regular 20-minute power nap may work for some while others need a full 8 hours each and every night. Others may function well on 6 or 7 hours during the week supplemented by 10 to 12 on the weekend. Because the particular rhythm is individual, it can be difficult to determine when a lack of sleep first begins to cause problems.
Like many conditions, the effects of sleep deprivation compound slowly over time tricking us into thinking we’re experiencing something normal rather than problematic. Failing to recognize and correct the problem slowly erodes emotional resiliency, the immune system, and our overall health. Early signs could be that you notice feeling more than tired or irritable. Perhaps you feel foggy, forgetful, or have minor hallucinations. Perhaps you feel more anxious than usual or seem to lack the joy that you previously felt. Any of these can be indicators that you are not getting enough rest.
We all have long to-do lists and such an expectation of immediacy that it can be tempting to ignore our bodies’ signals until we reach the point of exhaustion or other health concerns. Obviously, it is better to recognize the signs early and remedy the problem before it affects our immune systems or leads to a chronic condition like diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease.
Making the time to slow down is a constant challenge. Meditation and yoga can help, but where can you find time to work them in? And the more pressure you put on yourself, the harder it is to let your mind rest.
If this were easy, we’d all get enough rest, but according to the CDC almost a third of us are sleep deprived (defined as less than 7 hours per 24-hour period). This is especially true in the eastern and southeastern United States. In my particular state, the lowest rates of sleep seem to fall in the poorest counties.
Most of us think that we can catch up by sleeping late on a Saturday morning here and there. If we still feel exhausted, we assume there must be a different problem. This can mean we continue to exhaust ourselves.
It can take weeks to fully recover from sleep deprivation. Adding an hour or two per night over a longer period of time will give you the most benefit and if you can sustain the extra hours, prevent the problem from recurring.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t times you just need to shut things down. If you have reached a point at which you cannot function well, it is time to take more drastic action. Pretend you have a 24 or 48-hour virus. Go to bed and don’t do anything you would put aside if you really had that virus. Giving yourself permission to do this will help quiet your mind and put it in sync with your intention of resting.
Temperature, bed quality, light, and noise can all affect sleep quality. I learned long before smartphones existed that a digital clock with a red display disturbed my sleep. I had to go back to a clock with a face with hands. Now I move the laptop out of the room because the pulsing sleep indicator is disruptive.
Alcohol will give the illusion that it helps you sleep because you may fall asleep more easily, but it can interfere with REM sleep resulting in daytime sleepiness and performance impairment. I’ve heard plenty of self-diagnosed insomniacs complain about their lack of sleep while touting alcohol use as the solution to the problem. They don’t seem to realize that they’re still complaining about insomnia. If alcohol were fixing the problem, wouldn’t that complaint be gone?
I fall asleep easily and usually sleep well, but during times of extreme stress, I require additional hours of rest. I can’t get by with 6 or 7 hours for two nights followed by 8 for two nights. I need a full 8 – 9 hours each night and maybe a nap or two on the weekend. I don’t know whether my need is more physical, mental, or emotional, but I know it’s important to shift all systems into neutral in order to feel restored.
The irony is that I most need more rest when I least feel I can afford the time. Nonetheless, I am learning to tell myself the minute I feel I have to push myself, “You may need a nap!”