Taking a nap is one of the most powerful acts of self-care there is.
At any given moment, the number of roles that a woman is expected to play in daily life are diverse and innumerable: partner, employee, friend, mum, sister, carer, daughter, granddaughter. Let’s add in a few passions or hobbies for good measure: runner, reader, baker. Oh…and a few essential duties too: household bill manager, shopper, cleaner. This is not a comprehensive list, merely a brief snapshot of the many hats women are expected to wear throughout their lives. This list gets further complicated by societal expectations that we handle all these roles competently and with velocity, as if they are brightly coloured juggling balls and we must keep them all going at great speed. The push is for perfection and productivity in all areas of life, and the more pressure we feel to meet these expectations, the more harm we are doing to our wellbeing. We live in a fast-paced non-stop world and the pressure to keep up is immense. Despite limited research into their validity, harmful gender stereotypes such as ‘women are better than men at multitasking’ perpetuate the self-belief that we should be able to maintain a high standard in all roles. It’s a trap and, even when we know it’s there, it’s a trap that we readily fall into because to be anything less than vehemently productive is to fail.
What happens if we are forced to slow down?
The Covid-19 pandemic forced some of this speed and pressure to subside. It also took many of these roles described, and moulded them into another shape. Relationships could not be maintained in the same way, work roles either ramped up or were now done from home, hobbies and passions ceased or adapted. When change arises from a situation that is out of our control, sometimes it is a good idea to take some time out to reflect on what we have learnt from it. Be it good or bad, it is an opportunity to look at what has happened and to move forward by approaching our circumstances differently.
The Accidental Nap
During the first lockdown, I was at home considerably more and, with the option of going out removed, there were extra hours in the day. I got jobs done around the house and garden, but as lockdown continued, life looked very different. Then something unexpected happened. I started taking the occasional short and very unplanned nap. Pre-Covid me would never have contemplated a nap so I would wake feeling extremely guilty, racing through tasks at lightning speed, as if to make up for my despicable and slovenly behaviour. I struggled with the concept that napping was relaxation or self-care and this guilt made me ask questions. It made me curious about why most women struggle with self-care.
Society demands that in order to be a successful woman, we achieve highly at all times in every role we embody. Additionally, women are more likely to be in the ‘caregiver’ role and put their own care at bottom of the pile. There are no allowances unless perhaps we are unwell, and even then, we are expected to keep going, while most men are provided more flexibility to hit the pause button and slow down, guilt free.
No-one ever talks about Napping
Being cross about this discrepancy precipitated a change and tentatively, I began to love my newfound napping ability. In fact, I started to love it so much that I shared it with my female online comedy group. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one who was a napper! Discussion started on the ideal nap length (20-30 minutes for me, in case you were curious, slightly longer for my comedy group bud). A colleague also opened up about her love of a good nap too. Armed with the knowledge that I wasn’t alone and feeling all the more empowered by my napping habits – my partner and I began to research the benefits of taking a nap.
The findings were pretty impressive – napping is shown to reduce stress and irritability and to boost wellbeing. It can improve your memory, enhance creativity and make you feel more alert. There are physical benefits too, napping is reported to improve heart health, as well as boost your physical performance and your immune system. It is also said to improve your sex life. Napping switches everything off and back on again, providing renewed energy. Not bad for a free therapy option, and even more significant when you consider that burnout in women is on the increase. We tend to put our own self care at the very bottom of our to do list. It’s the juggling ball that we will let drop to keep the others up in the air because to take time out for ourselves to restore and refresh is not socially acceptable in the same way that it is for a man. No one raises an eyebrow at the man who heads to the gym after a hard day at the office, or who returns home from work and has a quick nap on the sofa before dinner.
The New Territory of Napping
Napping has a significant place in history: the Greeks and Romans were nappers and there are many famous self-confessed male nappers – Churchill, Da Vinci, Einstein and Edison for starters. You have to dig a lot deeper for the female nappers, but Lady Gaga and Gwyneth Paltrow have made reference to it. There is even a ‘Napping Day’ on March 9th. So, why is the act of napping not celebrated and more openly talked about? Why do we not own our relaxation and restoration as well as our hard work?
The world of napping is easy to access. I discovered that there are nap apps available to download; tips on how to get the most from your naps and best of all – and who even knew – that there were different nap categories! There is the recovery nap (used to compensate for sleep loss the night before), the prophylactic nap (taken in preparation for upcoming sleep loss), and the appetitive nap (simply for the enjoyment of napping) to name a few.
There needs to be a revolution in our thinking. Napping needs to be shame-free and regarded as an act of self care, rather than a guilty cry of exhaustion. It’s the very opposite of laziness – it’s self-aware self-care, and has a whole host of other benefits up for the taking. And for a woman to take time out, to know what her body needs and to switch off from all her roles guilt free, is a finger up to historic societal norms that are still haunting us today.
Written by Louisa Bennett.
@louisa_b_comedy is a comedy writer and author of a wellbeing blog at https://outdoorcure.co.uk Recent projects include Character Building Podcast, Holistic Healing Podcast and The Lockdown Answermachine series (as heard on BBC Radio Manchester). https://linktr.ee/louisa.b.comedy