Mastering the impromptu nap?
October 1, 2014 3:17 PM   Subscribe

I want to be able to nap at any point during the day, but I can't make myself go to sleep. Any tricks for napping at will? Difficulty level: I've got a newborn.

I'm currently at home with a seven-week-old baby whose sleep schedule is still fairly unpredictable - it's anyone's guess when he'll nap or for how long. Everyone says "sleep when the baby sleeps," but it's hard for me to do during the day, unless I'm utterly exhausted. I'll just kind of lay there. I'd like to be able to nap more effectively.

Most of the usual sleep hygiene advice is useless in this situation, since I can't really establish a daily pattern for myself. I don't have much time to do any slow relaxing rituals. Medication is out of the question. I'm looking for quick, efficient, and reliable ways to get myself relaxed enough to sleep a little. Counting sheep?

Note: I'm not currently seeking advice on baby sleep or scheduling. Just my own. Thanks!
posted by Metroid Baby to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
This is kind of just a learned skill. A few of the sleep hygiene things apply for sure: wherever you nap, make sure that is only a space for sleep (i.e., don't hang out on your bed to read or for other reasons, and when you go to nap, go to your bed). Earplugs may not be an option because of the baby, but if you can make white noise or something work then do that, and get an eyemask (this one's great and cheap) so that everything is really dark and so that you're not tempted to look around/at clocks/etc.

And then, just lie there. Maybe you won't nap at all at first. Do whatever relaxation things work for you -- slow breath counting is great, I like to very slowly say the alphabet to myself and picture each letter, there are a variety of other tricks like that that you can pull from relaxation tips. But if you don't sleep? Don't sweat it. If you're talking about quick naps, start by just teaching your body to lie there and that that's what you're doing now and let that sort of be its own reward (I find it's very helpful and rejuvenative even if I don't sleep), and in my experience eventually your body learns that it's OK to nap when you are trying to nap and then you start napping.
posted by brainmouse at 3:25 PM on October 1, 2014 [8 favorites]

Pzizz worked well for me when I napped. And a blankie. It takes a bit of practice to be able to get your mind quickly into nap state (i.e. 5 minutes or so to dropping off). The stretching that the Pzizz voice tells you to do was especially effective for me.
posted by nevan at 3:33 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I also have trouble napping for some reason, even though I used to be great at it. I find that I can practically fall asleep while I'm trying to do something else, but then when I get in bed I get all anxious and I can't fall asleep. What has worked is to try to "trick" myself into napping. I lie on the couch (not bed) and pick up a magazine. I end up falling asleep reading.
posted by radioamy at 3:36 PM on October 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

All of the above, and maybe even a timer. I take a nap and have a quiet alarm wake me after 45 min. It did take practice.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 3:37 PM on October 1, 2014

This is crass, but oxytocin might do in a pinch. If you're breastfeeding, nurse your baby lying down (observing safe co-sleep guidelines). Or, if you've been cleared for such things, masturbate.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:38 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

An eye mask made all the difference for me. Especially during daylight hours. A good fit is key! I liked this one because it's contoured to the face, rather than having your nose lift up the mask, negating its light-blocking benefits.
posted by rada at 3:38 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Try elevating your legs. Works like a charm for me. Flat on your back, legs elevated, and shoot for about 20 minutes, but no longer than a half hour. I am the power-nap queen.
posted by heyho at 3:49 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Blanket! I can't sleep without a blanket, but drape one over me so it covers my shoulders and I could sleep right on the floor if I had to. Seriously, it tells my brain it's a good time to sleep and allows me to drift off really quickly.

That said, I have a 6 month old and I never could nap when she napped, mostly because I had so many other things to do in those quiet times. Just laying down and closing my eyes for a few minutes was usually enough to recharge my mom-batteries and stave off exhaustion, though. Don't underestimate the power of the fake nap.
posted by lydhre at 3:57 PM on October 1, 2014 [8 favorites]

Make sure you don't have any blue screen light on during your trying-to-nap times. So no catching up on Facebook before trying to go to sleep.
posted by glasseyes at 4:36 PM on October 1, 2014

Phillip Roth recommends getting out of your daytime clothes and into your pajamas, or whatever you wear when you sleep at night. I've started following his advice and found that it makes my naps much more satisfying.
posted by alms at 4:39 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Don't underestimate the power of the fake nap.

Oh so true. I have two babies and I never quite mastered the sleep-when-they-sleep thing, but the "close eyes and breathe slowly" was a more realistically practicable skill. Which sometimes, if you're lucky, even leads to sleep.
posted by celtalitha at 4:40 PM on October 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

I always look at the clock and give myself 10 or 15 minutes and just close my eyes. Sometimes I will listen to a short guided meditation podcast, like less than 10 minutes long or set the sleep timer and I'm always out before it gets anywhere near that. Slow breathing is great too, I agree, like sometimes I'll count breathes up to 10 and tell myself I'll just do it 3 times and I'm out before that happens.
posted by katinka-katinka at 4:44 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

The false naps: relaxation with closed eyes and an empty mind. They helped me before I could sleep on command and they continue to help today. Pzizz was actually helpful too, even though I initially thought it was too hokey and commercial to be truly effective. The app helps with timing as well.
posted by Slap Factory at 4:52 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm listening to Hypnobabies right now and the CDs seem to pretty reliably put people to sleep. Maybe listening to some generic hypnotherapy tracks would be useful?

Personally, I think the advice to sleep when the baby sleeps is not very great advice for a lot of people. I can't handle taking short naps myself (although I'm great at falling asleep whenever I want to in the right circumstances), and I cannot fall asleep while expecting to be woken up at any minute. It's like trying to sleep while you're a doctor on call and you're getting paged at frequent and unpredictable intervals - I find it impossible to make my brain relax in that situation. If it had been an option for me, I think the advice to sleep in shifts while using a partner for baby care during their shift would have been best so that I could relax and get some real sleep, but of course, you have to have an available partner able to do that and a baby who can take a bottle of pumped milk or formula….
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:10 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I never got it down either. Kid is 9 months old. Oh well. Lying down and getting comfy and taking deep breaths helps anyway. Not pressuring myself to sleep is key, no way will I doze if I'm stressed about not napping quickly enough before the baby inevitably wakes.

Honestly for me the only thing that has resulted in actual napping is holding my son on my arms for a quick late afternoon snooze. He nurses to sleep and then snores in my lap. I can't move or easily use technology or make any noise, and with no option to get up and do stuff, I just lean back and doze. I never did this when he was newborn though, for safety reasons.
posted by Cygnet at 6:10 PM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

I couldn't do it properly and restfully for my daughter's first few months, no matter who else was available to look after her. I totally learnt the art of dozing on the sofa, but it wasn't sleep in any meaningful sense - like treehorn+bunny says it's like being on call.

My tips - shut the curtains. Put In The Night Garden on (there are plenty of episodes on YouTube - it's designed to be soporific for babies and thus it is for you). Have a blanket over you and comfy pillows. Take your glasses off if you wear them, and fall lightly asleep to the soothing, dulcet tones of Sir Derek Jacobi until the baby starts crying. Magic!
posted by goo at 6:15 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was always torn between getting something done or napping with the tiny human. Holding him while he slept had a sedative effect on me. He only fell out of bed once and I never smooshed him. Try matching it's breathing.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 6:15 PM on October 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Quiet, reading books or e-ink not screen, dark... and when you're tired enough, you'll get there, I promise.
posted by stormyteal at 7:11 PM on October 1, 2014

I have a baby, too. I find it hard to nap on cue also, despite being really tired a lot of the time. I've found deep breathing helpful. I have to actively tell my brain to BE QUIET for a few minutes, or else it'll worry/plan/muse/etc. I count backwards from 777 and usually I'm messing up my counting due to being partially asleep by the time I hit 650.
posted by RingerChopChop at 7:15 PM on October 1, 2014

So, before I had my baby, I was the champion of the power nap. Seriously. Here's what I would do: lay down in bed, look at my clock and pick an arbitrary number of minutes for my nap. So, let's say the clock says 1:54p. I tell myself that I'll nap for 17 min. Then I close my eyes and I add up the numbers. Let's see...1:54 plus 17 min, that's 2:11, I'll wake up at 2:11... now, let me think through that number again.... I would drift off, maybe just start to dream and then my dream would become sort of active and I'd get a little anxious, wake up, look at the clock and it would be 2:11 on the dot! So, weird little math problems help put me out. I don't know what woke me up.

It's a skill that I deeeeeeeply miss. Once I had a baby, I never could really nap, my brain would just go into a different kind of active state. But, that's okay. As the advice goes above, the "fake nap" is sometimes just the thing to recharge the batteries. You can try all the other tips but don't feel like a failure if you can't actually nap. But do use the baby's naps to recharge yourself. Despite my inability to nap (still! My baby is almost 4 now.), I still take some quiet, dark, lay downs with a little timer running on my phone to "wake" me. It's just a good idea. When my kid was small, I absolutely did this for at least one of her naps a day. I got too cranky otherwise.
posted by amanda at 7:28 PM on October 1, 2014

This is kind of a weird suggestion, but: when I only have a short time to rest, sometimes I can get a feeling of rested-ness by kind of simulating dreaming. I try to let as many different images/ideas flash through my mind as quickly as possible. The key is to not really try to control it, just let your brain spit up whatever weird detritus it's got. And don't stay with any one image, just keeping zipping on to the next one. Sometimes this can get me out of normal awake-state enough that before I know it I have drifted over the edge into actual sleeping.
posted by aka burlap at 7:29 PM on October 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Lay on your side, hands tucked under your cheek palm to palm (like when they come together to clap), knees bent, knee joints resting one on top of the other, ankle joints and inner feet resting one on top of the other...generally trying to align your shoulders, hips, knees and ankles one on top of the other all perpendicular to the bed. Feel your joints gently press on each other and slightly release internal pressure. And seconding above, even only laying down for 20 min without sleeping is a rest and can really make a world of difference.
posted by Emor at 7:39 PM on October 1, 2014

Obviously this goes entirely counter to all traditional sleep-hygiene advice, but when my bubs was younger and I really needed those naps I found that watching something mildly entertaining but not engrossing (reality tv, for e.g) distracted me enough to convince my body to sleep. It was really the only thing that enabled me to turn my mind off, and it has not had any long term consequences a few months later (I.e it's not a habit).
posted by jojobobo at 2:39 AM on October 2, 2014

when i used to nanny my senior year of college, i would take naps on the couch with the squishy squirmy by turning on an episode of How It's Made. the one about aluminum foil is very sedating. there's never any loud or sudden noises.

they're all on netflix and the announcer has a wonderful drone that just says "time to rest now, brain...time to rest"

also, yes, a blanket and taking off my shoes and unhooking my bra made it more "nap" time like.
posted by sio42 at 5:43 AM on October 2, 2014

Got some really tedious backlogged reading that you've been meaning to get to but just can't muster up the enthusiasm to start? Lie down in bed and make yourself start reading it. Your mind will rebel and make you fall asleep instead.

If you don't have any backlogged reading, buy a used textbook in a subject you hated in college and pretend that you have to study for an exam in it. Zzzzzzzzzzzz.....
posted by Jacqueline at 6:16 AM on October 2, 2014

My SIL called it the Nana nap which she did a lot when raising 2 kids & working 2 jobs. She could just lay on the floor/couch for 15 minutes. She'd drink a coffee before hand, and then "fake" nap for 15 minutes or so, and just relax and rest, she wouldn't sleep but she'd just sort of switch off. By the time she was done and waking up the coffee would start kicking in to keep her going. If she napped longer or without coffee she'd get the middle of the day nap headache/fogginess.

Also I've read the trick is a quick nap of 15 minutes otherwise you want to stay asleep for 1.5 hours so you get a full REM cycle. As that also helps avoid the fuzzy headed feeling middle of the day napping can bring.
posted by wwax at 8:09 AM on October 2, 2014

I find that I can rest, if not sleep very well by sacking out on the sofa, preferably with a cat, covered in a blanket, with something on TV that doesn't require actual watching. Court shows like The People's Court are good for this.

I can close my eyes and rest comfortably, while listening to something that's vaguely interesting, without being too interesting.

Perhaps resting listening to BBC World News would do it for you. Or one of the NPR afternoon shows.

If you're really tired, you'll rack out, if you just need to rest your body and brain, it's pretty splendid.

Scooby doo also works.

Try it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:19 AM on October 2, 2014

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