Monday, June 29, 2015

No Rest for the Wicked

I've been reading articles about the benefits napping. Research shows that a good nap reduces stress, improves brain function, boosts creativity, and can even help you lose weight or keep weight off.

The last time I took a nap was three years and one month ago. I was eight months pregnant with my second child, and we had just moved into our new house in a whirlwind three-day weekend. I was lying on the couch, in front of the TV, and I felt myself slipping into a delicious slumber, like sinking into the water with my limbs floating freely. At last I couldn't keep my eyes open, and I fell fast asleep.

Before that, it had been months since I'd taken a nap, in the very early stages of my pregnancy, and before that it had been years, when I was pregnant with my first child. With a baby inside me, my mind full of daydreams, I could relax enough to rest.

In my normal, non-pregnant state of being, though, I can't nap at all. Even if I’m drowsy after a weekend lunch, a glass of wine, and the house to myself in the afternoon, I still can't nap. Instead, I look around and see all the things that need to be picked up, and I end up putting away toys and doing laundry. The closest I can get to a nap is if I’m reading. After just a few pages, sometimes I begin to lose peripheral vision, like a vignette effect on a photograph. But just moments later, I snap back into focus, my heartbeat quickening, and I feel the urge to move again.

Both of my parents are nappers, so not being able to nap is not just an unfortunate hereditary trait. When my mom visits, she takes out her Kindle each afternoon and is asleep within minutes. She sleeps for at least an hour, completely oblivious to my kids arguing with one another over a toy or spilling their juice or having a meltdown because my husband or I have had to tell them no. Even though I don't see him often now, I remember my dad dozing in front of the TV, his feet propped up on the coffee table, with a smile on his face. And I remember his parents, my grandparents, falling asleep in their armchairs, my grandfather with his newspaper propped in front of him and my grandmother with her knitting needles in her hands.

Even though I come from this culture of nappers, I don't think I've ever been good at napping. I remember in preschool the teacher walking past me on my mat, reminding me that it was naptime. On more than one occasion, I told her that, unlike the other children, I could sleep with my eyes open. I remember being aware of the time, how much was left of it, and I wanted to be in control of how it was spent, specifically, playing dress up or climbing around outside. I resented someone telling me to go to sleep.

As an adult, anxiety is one of the reasons why I can't nap. Often I am not anxious about anything in particular. It's just a general anxiety that looms over me because I have people to take care of and other adult responsibilities that I am not always up for.

Other times, though, it's an eagerness to achieve. I am on an endless cycle of goal setting. I have decided to train for a half marathon, or I have decided to make a complicated meal with hard-to-find ingredients, even though I'm not much of a cook, or I have decided I will start writing a novel. My mind races with possibility. I wonder what kind of person I would be if I could nap. Probably someone who’s happy to leave the dishes for another time. Someone who could let go and relax. Someone who feels content. Someone who doesn’t get so mad at themselves every time they mess up. Someone who doesn’t feel like they have to work so hard at everything.

I'd love to be a napper, but unlike my other goals, I can’t just work hard to become one. I may become an old lady and still not know what it feels like to nap, but I like to think that someday I’ll be able to doze on a front porch swing or nod off in a hammock. I imagine a kinder, gentler version of me who no longer is resigned to envy afternoon sleepers. For now, it may only be a pleasant thought, a fantasy, perhaps. I may not be able to sleep, but a girl can always dream.

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