Nabbing a nap - without a nip from your conscience

A new book tells all about the art of healthful sleep

July 14, 2002|By Leslie Garcia | Leslie Garcia,DALLAS MORNING NEWS

Jill Murphy Long wants to tuck a blanket up under your chin, light a vanilla candle by your bed, slip in a soothing CD and say, "Sleep, honey. It may be only 2 p.m., but you deserve it."

In our hearts, we know she's right. We do deserve a nap. But in our go-go-go culture, naps - like double butterscotch sundaes - have become guilty pleasures that more likely than not go unfulfilled.

"What surprised me was that women would not give themselves permission to nap," says Long, who queried 200 women for her appropriately titled "Permission to Nap: Taking Time to Restore Your Spirit" (Sourcebooks Inc.; $14.95).

"They're busy, but so busy taking care of other people they won't carve time out for themselves."

In her book, Long points out that about 60 million Americans are chronically sleep-deprived, and most women get less sleep per night than men.

When men need a nap, they take it without guilt, she says. She writes that Winston Churchill changed into his pajamas to nap, and that a half-dozen U.S. presidents, as well as such big minds as Albert Einstein, napped regularly.

In "Permission to Nap," Long discusses the benefits of naps, and quotes a noted sleep researcher: "Healthy sleep has been proven to be the single most important determinant in predicting longevity, more influential than diet, exercise or heredity."

Yet women have a hard time shaking nap guilt, she says. Many believe naps are a sign of laziness. Long takes naps almost daily - despite a busy schedule filled with writing, raising a child, practicing yoga and running a household.

"I do love to sleep," she says. "I get at least eight hours a night, but I move really fast. That's why I have so much energy. I play and have fun, but when I nap, I nap."

When the weather's nice, she snoozes in a hammock suspended between two spruce trees outside her Colorado home.

Winter afternoons, she dons her bear-claw slippers, pushes aside the bamboo shades hung over her daybed, turns off the low-watt light bulb in the paper lantern and rests her head on fake-fur pillows.

Long suggests that women set aside 20 minutes daily for quiet time.

"The world won't end," she says. "Just be with yourself. Just be quiet. That's so hard for Americans."

And you don't actually have to fall asleep. Just rest those weary bones. Afterward, Long says, you will feel refreshed and rejuvenated.

Tips for happy naps

Here are some tips, gleaned from Jill Murphy Long's book, to help ease your way into happy napping:

Take baby steps. That way, she says, "It won't be such a shock to your system." Maybe start by lighting some candles in the bathroom and taking a bath. Or go outside, lie on the ground and stare at the sky.

Drop the guilt. Who's making you feel guilty - the housekeeping police? Nobody's going to come by with white gloves and scold you for napping instead of dusting.

Promise yourself one nap per week, and feel free to take more than one.

Experiment with times. Ideally, Long writes, you should nap eight hours after waking up in the morning and eight hours before falling asleep at night. So if you're on a 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. schedule, your primo nap time is 3 p.m.

Create a nap space. Put lavender in a bowl; buy a nice pillowcase. "It should be like taking a vacation in your own home," she says.

Consider your nap as important a commitment as going to the doctor or meeting with a client. Write it in your appointment book.

Get in the mood. Drink a cup of chamomile tea and put on music. Put a pair of clean white socks into the dryer for a few minutes, then put them on. The comforting warmth will make you want to curl up and snooze.

Turn off the phone, the TV, the computer.

Keep it short. Usually, 20 to 30 minutes is plenty. Much more and you'll be groggy - and it will adversely affect your nighttime sleep.

- Dallas Morning News

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