The Great Debate for Insomniacs – To Nap or Not to Nap?

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Most insomnia programs that do not simply mask symptoms with drugs focus on behavioral and life style choices that affect sleep.

Most of this is good overall health advice. Who can argue with recommendations such as getting regular exercise and exposure to sunlight, sleeping in a peaceful dark, quiet room, or monitoring caffeine and alcohol intake? Good suggestions for everybody.

But there are some common recommendations — sometimes even stated as “rules” — that often cause confusion or even distress for some people.

One of them is cause for great debate: To nap or not to nap?

Most programs come down pretty hard on naps. I completely agree that a long nap late in the day should be avoided. In my bad periods, I certainly had many evenings where I would fall asleep on the couch after work simply because I was too exhausted to do anything else. I would wake up feeling pretty refreshed, but it would effectively ruin my night’s sleep. This is what the “no nap rule” is trying to prevent.

However, a short mid-day nap can be an excellent thing. By short I mean 20-50 minutes, so you stay within the realm of light sleep, by mid-day I mean before 3:00-ish. This little gem has several benefits:

  1. It can completely rejuvenate your energy for the afternoon, which, while often a sluggish time for average sleepers, can be almost intolerable for insomniacs.
  2. It can stave off the need to take an evening nap or drink that late cup of coffee, either of which might very well interfere with night-time sleep.
  3. It allows your body to de-stress and relax in the middle of the day, which helps promote better sleep at night. My favorite relaxation tape begins with these words: “This is a very important time of day: a time to renew and revitalize, to release the pressure of your personality from the nervous system.”
  4. It can serve as a “safety net,” and take some of the pressure off getting the perfect sleep at night, which actually leads to better sleep at night.

Being self-employed and working out of my home office, I have come to treasure my short, post-lunch nap. I get up around 5:30 a.m. to exercise, so by 12:30 or 1:00 I am usually ready for a little downtime. Even if I am not sleepy, I find that designating this 30-40 minutes to relaxing and rejuvenating has tremendous benefits. I feel much more awake and present for my afternoon clients and more grounded and relaxed at the end of the day. A nap in the middle of the day may seem like a lazy, unproductive thing to do, but, for me, taking this short break each day not only enhances my energy for that afternoon, but my mood and overall enjoyment of life, which eventually leads to better sleep at night and greater productivity during the day.

Now I know not everyone has the kind of job or life situation that allows for such luxuries as naps. But I’ve had clients who do have the time and inclination to take a nap, but have been scared off by sleep coaches and programs that strongly state “No naps allowed.” I just want to affirm that if someone is able to take a short mid-day nap and wants to, then by all means they should. A short mid-day nap should not interfere with night-time sleep and provides these other wonderful benefits as well.