The Walking Dead Parent: 9 Ways To Promptly Pay Off Your Sleep Debts

by Christina Katz

Do you ever wish taking naps could be considered cool? Unfortunately our power-parent culture seems to have regulated naps to babies, to hospital patients, and to the elderly. Well, the heck with all that. Once you declare naps hip, trendy, and fashionable, you won’t deny yourself the crucial sleep recovery they provide. Recent studies indicate a high likelihood new parents are not merely overtired but are completely exhausted.

Even if you have had kids for a while, you may not have gotten any better at catching enough zzz’s. The tween and teen years can also be a tricky time to balance activities with rest. Once parents become tired to the bone, judgment can become impaired, and this can lead to an unhealthy dependence on caffeine to get through the day.

Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night and the CDC says that one third of adults are not getting enough. A lack of sleep can affect health, concentration, and alertness. Parents denied shut-eye make more than just occasional mistakes. Sleep deprivation can lead to auto accidents, chronic health conditions, and even diseases.

If you are wearing your weariness like a badge of hardcore parent pride, maybe it’s time to reclaim your emotional, mental, and physical health by practicing the art of napping. Just like any habit, you will become a more effective napper with practice. So if you are feeling fuzzy right now from a lack of sleep, why not go grab a quick nap? You deserve it!

1. Use Your Body As Barometer. Not sure if you need a nap? Your body knows. Do you feel fatigued, irritable, restless, or distracted? These are all signs that you have accumulated a sleep debt. A lack of adequate sleep can quickly rack up. When I am overtired I often feel physically ill. Rather than regard this feeling as something to push through, I have learned to pay attention. Why not yield when your body has hit its limit, rather than soldiering on.

2. Park Your Phone. Silence your cell phone when you nap and the alarm should still ring. Keep your phone across the room to resist the urge to reach for it and check how much time has passed. You will snooze better without your phone in a dark room and in a comfortable bed, just like when you sleep at night. If this is not how you usually sleep, make the necessary adjustments.

3. Squeeze In Sleep. The best place to nap is probably in your bedroom but napping at home may not always be convenient. If this is true, become more flexible about where you are willing to nap (see sidebar.) I surprised myself recently by napping in the car in the early evening for about twenty minutes. Everything I’ve read says this was the wrong time to nap, but I felt refreshed afterwards and slept well that night. The bottom line: if you are sleep-deprived, any nap, anywhere, for any length of time is better than none.

4. Turn Off Your Mind. Many parents suffer from monkey mind when they try to nap, but that’s not a good reason to avoid resting. A better idea is to get in the habit of relaxation, even if you don’t go all the way to sleep. Your mind may become more willing to quiet down so you can sleep after you chill out. Try putting worries on clouds in your mind and letting them float away.

5. Consider Caffeine Intake. It’s okay to drink coffee or tea to help you stay alert, but try not to drink caffeine after 3 p.m. if you want to sleep well at night. On the other hand, if you find yourself awake at four or five in the morning, you may decide to get up and drink some coffee, knowing that you will be napping with your toddler mid-morning. Adjust your caffeine consumption to support your nap schedule. Naps reduce your sleep deficit; caffeine does not.

6. Banish Guilt. Your whole family will sleep better if you ignore other opinions and do what works for you. Infant deaths, parent accidents, and postpartum depression are all alleviated by excellent parent self-care. If you have a baby who does not sleep through the night, get creative with your sleep routines. Don’t try to force a baby who has only been alive a few months to align sleep rhythms with adults. Create a sleep schedule that’s win-win for your family and your baby.

7. Ask For Help. A sleep-deprived parent caring for a baby is risky. Babies spend a lot of time sleeping and parents can play this tendency to their sleep-deprived advantage. Team up and work out a schedule that allows everyone to maintain adequate sleep. If one parent is sleep deprived, and the other is working full-time, consider sleeping in separate beds during the week and swapping bedrooms on the weekends. Let the working parent do some weekend nighttime duties to help the stay-at-home parent catch up on sleep.

8. Accept Evolving Routines. Once you strike upon a sleep schedule that works, try to milk it as long as you can. It’s possible that baby’s schedule will never become consistent, and that’s okay. Don’t hold yourself or baby to some ideal standard that has no impact on health. The most important goal is for everyone to consistently get enough sleep. Once you have achieved that, then you can worry about how clean the house is or is not.

9. Take Pride In Sleeping Well. Parents may discover that no matter what ages their children, getting enough sleep remains challenging. Exhaustion is often glamorized and contagious. Pay attention to your own sleep needs, first, and meet them consistently to model healthy sleep hygiene. Then teach kids to say no to sleep-deprivation temptations. Inoculate your family against unhealthy sleep habits—you’ll be so glad you did.

Types Of Naps

Compare nap types and try what works for you—or whatever necessity dictates.

The 10 to 20-minute Power Nap. It’s not the length of the nap that causes you to awaken refreshed, it’s your ability to totally surrender to sleep, even when the nap will be short.

The 30-minute Short Nap. Some people say this type of nap isn’t as effective as longer naps, but take a short nap over no nap any weary day. Set your phone alarm, so you can succumb without worrying about oversleeping.

The 90-minute Deep Sleep. Studies show that you can enter REM sleep if you can stay asleep for an hour and a half. Sleeping deeply helps you bounce back faster once you wake up.

Name That Nap

Co-snoozing: If the baby is already sleeping, why not cuddle up and nap together or near each other? Do your due diligence online on the safest ways to co-sleep. Or gently lay baby down in a co-sleeper or crib in the same room.

Cat Nap: If you are alone and have thirty minutes, cover your eyes, use earplugs, recline and grab a short rest. Some people nap better if they are alone.

After-Lunch Shuteye: Bring earplugs and an eye mask to work, lay your head on your desk, and set your phone for your wake up time.

Car Respite: Find a shady spot, park the car, crack the windows, stash your valuables, lock the doors, put back the seat and snooze.

Sideline Siesta: Seek a spot beyond out-of-bounds players and stray balls, bring a blanket, use your purse as a pillow, put a magazine over your face, and feel the earth cradling your body.

Shotgun Recharge: Babies are not the only ones who can catch some zzz’s in a moving vehicle. Bring your earplugs and sleep mask, let your spouse navigate, put back your seat back and sleep away.

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