Self Caring

Power-Napping 101

Last updated: Jun 10, 2011

Sleeping lioness

Do you get enough sleep?

No, I'm not naive or stupid, and that wasn't a trick question! I know that if you're a caregiver, the odds are good that either the quality or the quantity of your nightly shut-eye isn't ideal. Studies have shown that as many as 75 to 95 percent of caregivers report sleep deprivation or other sleep impairment.

One (partial) solution: napping, or more specifically power-napping, a short segment of midday sleep that can help recharge your batteries.

(Full disclosure: I used to be a nap naysayer. When I tried, I'd zonk out for more than an hour. But I've become a convert to the power nap. It is possible for some people to learn, and it is re-energizing.)

How to catch those power zzzz's:

  • Think about what you eat beforehand. Ideally, you'll avoid caffeine or fatty foods about two hours before you plan to nap (though I realize you may be using coffee to fuel through the morning). Calcium (milk, cheese, yogurt) helps promote sleep. Check out these 5 foods that promote sleep.

  • Find the right timing for you. For many people, a post-lunch nap works well because this is when your circadian rhythm puts you at your natural low ebb. (It mirrors how deeply sleepy you are 12 hours earlier, at around 1-3 am.)

  • If you can, retreat to a comfortable and quiet place. Bed works fine, or sofa or lounge chair. Turn off the TV, radio, and other distractions. If you're caring for someone with dementia, you might choose to nap when he or she does, or when there's an aide or helper around. Or stay close by and begin a nap just after beginning a favorite TV program. Wear an eyeshade if light is a problem for you.

  • Try using a blanket. Body temperature falls when you sleep, so this may help you keep at it when you nod off.

  • Set a timer or cellphone alarm for 15 to 20 minutes. Many practiced powernappers can rouse themselves after 10 or 15 minutes of sleep. But beginners may need the prod of an alarm clock keeping track.

  • Close your eyes and clear your mind. At first, you may not be able to fall asleep immediately. That's okay. Just aim for a meditative state. That means as specific problems or worries enter your mind, tell yourself, "Later. I'm resting now." Return to a specific scene in your mind (a favorite place, a relaxing beach). Breathe slowly and deeply.

  • When the timer goes off, get up. This is key. Don't continue sleeping even if it feels great. The ideal nap is less than 20 minutes long, not only because it's more manageable for most caregivers but because it promotes alertness and doesn't leave you groggy, as longer sleep can.

See if it's do-able for you, and if it helps -- and let me know.