Is it time for a long winter's nap?

Posted: Sunday, October 20, 2002

A lot of people are remarking this month about how dark it's getting. We passed the autumnal equinox weeks ago and now, losing minutes each day, are on a slow and steady spiral down, down onto to the dark sofa of winter. It's not just us, Nature's eyelids are getting heavy and she is curling up in a bed of fallen leaves, reaching for a cozy blanket of snow. We all feel like we need a nap.

Nita Nettleton can be reached at

Why do we fight the nap urge? We sleep all night; we should be able to stay active all day, right? Modern science has told us time and again that we are often sharper and more energetic after a short nap in the middle of the day and to just do it. It is a healthy thing. Maybe we never got over the feeling as toddlers that when we were put down for our nap, all the good stuff happened and we missed it. Our rational mind knows all we missed was laundry folding and daytime dramas with the volume down, but our toddler minds still think we were cheated and naps are to be avoided. To complicate the values we formed regarding a diurnal snooze, the same mothers who made us sleep in the middle of the day chased us out of bed as teens so we wouldn't sleep our lives away.

In adulthood, some of us became parents or got into professions with goofy hours and didn't get a good night's sleep for a few years. Those who survived came out with a healthy nap habit. I learned adult napping on the job, actually. I had a very repetitive job with no end to it in a room assaulted by afternoon sun where no one ever checked on me. Ever. What would you have done?

There are households where couch napping is not allowed ("If you're so tired, why don't you go to bed?"), but it can be the very best nap venue. It's all about the quality of the sleep, not the quantity. A good napping couch is cushy but not saggy and has a pillow and fuzzy blanket within reach. Some nappers prefer short couches that naturally curl you up, others need room to stretch out.

Even those of us with well-developed nap habits can feel guilty taking time out in the middle of the day. Maybe it's a sunny day, so precious in a wet climate. Or maybe, as now, it's a day shorter than yesterday and therefore precious. Use your imagination here, but what if it's a sunny fall day? There are a million more productive and memorable things you could do than fritter the golden and dry moments in a nap. It's tough, but you just have to budget your time. If it's a dry fall day, you were probably up and busy early doing all the things you didn't get to all summer. You painted, power washed, or worked at putting the garden away. After a few hours of that, you need to take a break for safety reasons, so it's perfectly OK to make the most of the break by resting as efficiently as possible. Do it right and take a nap.

Naps are as individual as the napper. Some people are a ball of fire again after only 10 minutes of sleep. Others need an hour or more. Some can nap draped over machinery in a noisy place, others need a soft, horizontal spot and quiet. The common item is that nothing else is going on with the napper; there is no multi-tasking. It is a time out. Maybe that's what puts naps in a prominent spot on some folks' guilt list. You can't do it while you do a million other things as we too often do in our busy lives. But that is the beauty of it. We all need one activity in the day, however brief, that is just one thing well done. Your cat has been trying to teach you this for years.

Are we clear now on the legal, ethical and moral propriety of a midday nap? Good, because you've made the most of the daylight so far today, the neighborhood is quiet and you're feeling like you could sit on the sofa for just a few minutes to relax. With your shoes off. And your feet up. You sink down, down and it feels so good to just let your eyelids - wait, before you totally relax, maybe you could reach for the fuzzy blanket and fix the pillow. As your eyes close, you murmur to Nature to move over and with a slight rustle of leaves and snowflakes, you are allowed to share a few moments of the long winter's nap.

Nita Nettleton can be reached at

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