Sleep is for the weak, I used to say. But thank goodness neuroscience has proved me wrong. Now I know that it is, rather, lack of sleep that makes you weak. Here are a few reasons why I now have embraced the afternoon nap.
- My body needs it
I lived in an incredibly toxic level of stress for way too long. I was used to having a resting heart rate of 100 bpm. It was only when I stepped back from full-time teaching that my body began to catch up. Six years of interrupted sleep. Six years of trying to teach or parent, or both, on 5-6 hours of interrupted sleep. Six years of trying to sustain my full-time roles of mom, full-time elementary teacher, coach, Sunday school teacher, friend, wife, schedule-keeper and house-organizer. Not the best mental health. Burnout.
For the first two months after I took my leave, I needed a nap every single afternoon. And when I say need, I mean I couldn’t keep my eyes open past noon. Now, about five months into my leave, I still need a nap about every three days. When I do too much one day, it takes one or two to recover. My body just needs extra sleep right now. It is trying to repair my mind. I am totally amazed by the brain’s capability to restore itself. So I am letting my body rest to facilitate my mind’s recovery.
2. My brain needs it
Sleep is absolutely necessary for learning and integration. You can retain new facts better when you sleep. In fact, you retain facts better if you sleep right after you are exposed to them. Sleeping facilitates the building of dendrites, and dendrites facilitate intelligence.
Sleep also helps you process the events of your day, or part of the day up until that point. It gives your brain a break from reacting to and filtering stimulation, and gives it time to store all the experiences and emotions into a healthy spot. Research shows that it takes 20 minutes of silence to process even one conversation properly.
When striving for a healthy brain, you cannot cut out sleep. In fact, you should sleep more. So even if I don’t fall asleep completely, I make sure to just close my eyes and rest for about 20 minutes to help my brain filter facts and experiences.
3. Sleep is necessary
As scientist Matt Walker makes the point in his Ted Talk, sleep is our superpower. When we sleep we make new cells, process and store memories, help our immune system, and improve our mood. There are more benefits to sleep, but that list alone is sufficient to make me want to sleep more. I know now that I don’t do well on 5 hours of sleep. Science agrees that’s actually inadequate.
North America is so busy it is forgetting how to sleep. In fact, we praise those who stay up late and get up early. They are so gloriously productive. I’m learning to let that go and let myself sleep because I’m actually more productive overall by working less and sleeping more. Viva la afternoon siesta!
4. All the smart people do it
There are lists and lists of very successful people who nap. Presidents. Scientists. Creatives. Einstein. Warren Buffet. Margaret Thatcher. Leonardo da Vinci. Archimedes. Brian Dixon. They understood the correlation between rest and cognitive function. They knew their best ideas came from those zones right before, during or after a deep sleep. If they didn’t see napping as a weakness, but rather, a creative strength, then so will I. And it is true. Often moments of clarity or breakthrough ideas come during time very close to sleep.
5. Life is a marathon, not a sprint
We have three children not yet in school. My husband often works weekends. The grandparents live 4 and 6 hours away. And we live rural. Parenting is an around-the-clock job. 24 hours. 28-31 days of the month. 12 months of the year. I never clock out. But I do allow myself to nap when I feel I need it since I need to be kind all the way through to bedtime. And then again at 2am when someone wakes me up to go to the bathroom.
6. It is God’s best plan for me to rest
We are not machines. We are humans. I’ve often begrudged that we need to sleep because I could get so much done with 24 full hours of productivity. But I am learning that in order to have long term physical, relational and mental health, sleep and rest is necessary. God actually tells us to rest many places in the bible. It is wisdom to rest. It is wisdom to recharge. It is wisdom to listen to God’s best plan for us and allow rest.
Give yourself a chance to nap this week. Put aside work. Pause the studying. Make dinner a little later. Give in to your desire for a break from the stress for half an hour. Even just turn on a movie for the kids and close your eyes beside them. A nap doesn’t have to be long or fancy, it just has to be that quick moment in a day when you inhale deep and close your eyes. For the health of your body, nap. For the creativity of your ideas, nap. For patience in your parenting, nap. For the recovery of your brain, nap. It is wisdom to rest.