Once you’re a mom, it seems your life revolves around other people’s sleep schedules. I emphasize others because sadly, most of us get left off the list when it comes to getting enough sleep.
We all know what happens when our child is overtired, but we can get as grumpy and tantrum as much as our children when we are short on sleep.
When I talk with moms about sleep, they all inherently seem to understand that they need more of it. The problem is finding a way to get it.
Research is coming to our rescue with great news about the importance of getting a little sleep in the middle of our day.
Yep, that’s right. I’m talking about naps.
I admit that one of my greatest tools for surviving the long stretch of baby feedings and kids waking up with bad dreams, wet beds, and tummy aches was napping. I literally put a sign on my door that said “Taking a nap, please do not ring the bell” and I went to sleep in the middle of the day when my kids slept. I had no idea that napping was a scientifically smart thing to do- I did it out of sheer exhaustion. But now, years later, I get to see the wisdom in that survival tactic.
Here are 5 science-based reasons why you should make taking a nap a regular part of your day.
- Taking a nap can improve your memory and thinking.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that a short nap after lunchtime improved memory and increased cognitive skills. Part of the reasoning behind this is that when certain kinds of memories are first recorded, they are placed in the hippocampus of your brain which acts as a storage holding area. When this storage area is too full, memory doesn’t get well integrated. You need sleep to get them out of storage and into the long-term areas of your brain. Therefore, taking a nap allows your brain the time it needs to process and store memory.
Another Canadian study found that taking naps generally help you think clearer. Reaction time improves and problem-solving becomes easier. They also found that there is a science to napping. The length of the nap and the time of day have a big impact on how helpful that mid-day sleep might be for you. (To read more about how to take a great nap, click here)
- Taking a nap can boost your immune system
In a small 2015 French study, researchers found that napping had the power to protect your body from the damaging effects of too little sleep.
“This is the first study that found napping could restore biomarkers of neuroendocrine and immune health to normal levels. Our data suggests a 30-minute nap can reverse the hormonal impact of a night of poor sleep,” said one of the JCEM study’s authors, Brice Faraut, Ph.D., of the Université Paris Descartes-Sorbonne Paris Cité in Paris, France. “The findings support the development of practical strategies for addressing chronically sleep-deprived populations, such as night and shift workers.”
Sleep-deprived moms often struggle with the same challenges as shift workers, especially moms getting up in the night with newborns after the heavy demands of childbirth. Hormones shifting, and a body healing put the immune system into overdrive. We have long known that taking naps when your children nap is part of a wise recovery strategy. But now, we have a little bit of science to back that up!
- Taking a nap can help pay back your sleep debt and preventatively help you prepare for sleep loss.
Short bursts of sleep are critical to help us “limp along” when we aren’t able to get the full night sleep our bodies and brains really require.
And research has also shown that prophylactic napping or taking a nap in preparation for a night of little sleep can actually help you get through a challenging night.
What does this mean for us moms?
When you have a kiddo who is sick or you know you’ll be up in the middle of the night feeding your infant, it pays off to prepare for the night by taking a nap. While this might sound like a no-brainer, it surprises me how many moms have a hard time actually allowing themselves to nap. Part of self-care in challenging circumstances is to anticipate the sleep loss and prepare for it. Getting ahead of the problem is always preferable to reacting to it.
- Taking a nap helps increase your frustration tolerance
My favorite study by far is this 2015 University of Michigan study which found that naps help us deal with frustration and have better emotional control. Check out this quote from one of the lead researchers Jennifer Goldschmied:
“Our results suggest that napping may be a beneficial intervention for individuals who may be required to remain awake for long periods of time by enhancing the ability to persevere through difficult or frustrating tasks,” said Goldschmied.
Hmmm, individuals who may be required to stay awake for long periods of time? Difficult and frustrating tasks? Needing the ability to persevere? Sounds like motherhood to me! Though these researchers did not focus their study specifically on women who are mothers, the research most certainly applies to us.
These are just a few examples of a greater body of research that supports the importance of sleep for our well-being. Mom naps are the secret weapon to combatting fatigue and the mental fog that comes with sleep deprivation. I seriously don’t think I could have survived without them and I encourage you to consider building them into your schedule each day as part of your self-care!
Read more on how to nap like a pro.
If you’d like to share any of your nap wisdom, please leave a comment below. We learn from each other!
As always, take good care of you!