• Phyllis Prestamo

Napping - Friend or Foe?

Before retiring I woke up at 5:45 am, left at 7:00 for a one-hour commute to work, usually ate lunch at my desk, went to numerous meetings in the afternoon, back home by 6:30, had some downtime with TV, in bed by 11:00 and started the process again the next morning and all with no nap and not even the desire to nap. How could this be? Since I've retired I wake up at about 7:30 (need an alarm--not a morning person) get out of bed by 8-8:30, eat breakfast, dress and do my thing. After lunch though, I have the overwhelming urge to take a nap and often succumb. I have found that napping is not my friend. My husband on the other hand is a very early riser and morning person and has always napped. He is a 15-20 minute napper and can do this anywhere. As a salesperson he has pulled over to a parking lot and taken a quick 15 and then went off to an energetic afternoon sales call. If I stopped to take a nap in my car, I would be awoken by a cop well after dark asking if I needed assistance. Napping for me brings me to an all out REM sleep!

According to research and reported by the National Sleep Foundation, the amount of sleep required by seniors is similar to the sleep needs throughout their adult years, however our sleep architecture, the patterns of our sleep, has been altered. The article explains: "Sleep occurs in multiple stages including dreamless periods of light and deep sleep, and occasional periods of active dreaming (REM sleep). The sleep cycle is repeated several times during the night and although total sleep time tends to remain constant, older people spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep than in deep sleep." Also other factors affecting sleep for older adults can be troublesome; medications, snoring (by you or your sleep partner), Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), Indigestion/acid reflux - GERD, orthopedic issues/comfort and the need to use the bathroom more frequently can be the cause. My husband who has orthopedic issues has found his own set of pillows for comfortable sleep (neck pillow and small bolster) and takes them everywhere. Those with GERD can find relief by elevating the head by purchasing an adjustable upper body wedge Leg and circulation issues can be resolved by elevating the legs and feet - leg wedge And if all else fails, sleeping in a well made recliner can do the trick for a restful night.

Napping can be a solution when effective sleep is a problem, but how does one do this? The Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER), has some thoughts and suggestions and shares ways to get the best out of a nap:

The benefits of napping:

  • Relaxation

  • Reduced fatigue

  • Increased alertness

  • Improved mood

  • Improved performance, including quicker reaction time and better memory

What are the drawbacks of napping?

  • Sleep inertia. This is me - You might feel groggy and disoriented after waking up from a nap. I am pretty useless if I nap for an hour or more.

  • Nighttime sleep problems. Short naps generally don't affect nighttime sleep quality for most people. But if you experience insomnia or poor sleep quality at night, napping might worsen these problems. Long or frequent naps might interfere with nighttime sleep and eventually you may do most of your sleeping during the day.

What's the best way to take a nap?

To get the most out of a nap, the Mayo Clinic suggests you follow these tips:

  • Keep naps short. Aim to nap for only 10 to 20 minutes. The longer you nap, the more likely you are to feel groggy afterward.

  • Take naps in the early afternoon. Napping after 3 p.m. can interfere with nighttime sleep.

  • Create a restful environment. Nap in a quiet, dark place with a comfortable room temperature and few distractions

For me, napping has become a part of my daily life as a senior, but I have had to only nap in the early afternoon and set my phone timer for 15 minutes. I still am fairly groggy upon waking, just like I am in the morning, so I sit myself up before resuming activities.

Important Note: If you are experiencing an increased need for napping or unexplained tiredness it is time to see your doctor. It may be your medication, a sleep disorder or an indication of a more serious condition.

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