[Stephanie Romiszewski – Leading Sleep Physiologist, Insomnia and CBTi expert]
Have you ever found yourself so tired that you find yourself drifting off at 4pm? Or that you’re so fatigued you feel like you can’t make it through the day? If you’re a parent, the chances are you have.
On average, we get around six and a half hours of sleep a night, but for those of us who have chronic health conditions, or children with additional needs like autism or ADHD, it can be even less.
Although the post-lunch siesta has fallen out of favour in the UK, it can actually do us good. A study on the brain’s ability to recall facts found that a lunchtime nap boosted brainpower in the evening, and NASA found short naps to restore alertness, enhance performance and reduce mistakes.
But wait! Before you rejoice and head off with your duvet, you might want to read this.
We caught up with sleep guru Stephanie Romiszewski, who featured in Channel 4’s Secrets of Sleep, to talk about the do’s and don’ts of having a daytime nap.
Are daytime naps a good thing?
‘Daytime napping can be a very effective tool to reduce tiredness, but it really depends on who you are and what your situation is. The key in working out whether a nap is a good thing, is about looking at when it is appropriate.
‘If you’re sleep-deprived, that is – you have something actively restricting you from sleep, like a baby or child who wakes a lot during the night, then yes, short naps during the first half of the day can be a good occasional tool.
‘If, however, you do not have anything actively restricting you from sleep at nighttime, and have insomnia, compensating with daytime naps can perpetuate your problems.’
As parents, many of us will fall into the ‘sleep-deprived category.’ How long should we be napping for, and when?
‘Short naps of no more than around 30 minutes can boost cognitive ability and make you feel refreshed. But if you leave it longer, you’ll be in a deeper stage of sleep which is much harder to come out of and can leave you feeling groggy. That’s why we sometimes feel more tired after a long nap than when we went to sleep!
‘It’s all about working out when a nap is appropriate and when it isn’t. If for example, you’ve been up all night with the baby and you can’t physically keep your eyes open, your body is telling you it needs a nap.
‘If on the other hand, you’re simply feeling fatigued but are still able to keep your eyes open and have some level of functioning, don’t force yourself to nap. Getting out and about, taking in the scenery and breathing in some fresh air might be just the boost you need to tackle the rest of the day.’
Many of us have children who have a nap in the afternoon. Should we be having an afternoon nap every day too?
‘While short naps can be effective in helping us compensate for missed nighttime sleep, my advice would be to make sure you don’t habituate to napping.
‘Just like in children, our brains become accustomed to a nap at the same time every day and this can cause us more problems in the long run.’
What can we do to improve our nighttime sleep?
‘As with children, most sleep hygiene issues can be solved with a behavioural approach. That means you have some control over how well you sleep at night based on the things you do and how consistently you do them.
‘Just as it is with children, a good sleep routine is vital for us too. Wake up at the same time each day, and only go to bed when you feel sleepy tired. This helps your brain know what to expect and helps keep things in a regular rhythm.
‘Getting some morning light reduces sleepy feelings much quicker than anything else – so getting out in the fresh air can work wonders.
‘Doing some exercise during the day can contribute to a more sound sleep. It actually increases the time we spend in deep sleep, which is the most restorative sleep phase. Whether it’s a walk in the park or some exercise in the home, it all contributes to the release of chemicals that directly influence how well we sleep.’
For children’s sleep tips, head over to Sleep Strategies for Children here.
About Stephanie Romiszewski
Stephanie Romiszewski is a leading Sleep Physiologist, Insomnia and CBTi expert at the Sleepyhead Clinic in Exeter. She offers online consultations and DIY sleep courses, working flexibly around the needs of her clients. Please visit her website to find out more, or follow Stephanie on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more sleep tips.