Google ‘insomnia’, visit a sleep website or talk to a sleep specialists and it’s quite typical to be advised against a daytime nap, if you have insomnia – The best way to increase the drive for sleep at night is to avoid any sleep during the day.
Well, maybe not. Health psychologist Dr Moira Junge from the Monash Sleep Disorders Clinic says it’s time to challenge the fear syndrome surrounding napping for people with insomnia. She shares her experience with NapNow here.
“I used to tow the party line, discouraging napping in my clients, until about four yeas ago. I found that as my patients started to improve their night-time sleeping after 4 to 6 sessions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, they started feeling more tired during the day,. They would be perturbed by this, but it was actually as sign that they were getting better – they were starting to feel their natural biological rhythms. As well they were encountering an enormous backlog of tiredness (sleep debt) that had been accumulating for months or years.
At the same time I was aware of all the research, especially over the last ten years, that demonstrates the benefits of short naps to daytime alertness. There’s also the literature showing that infants who nap during the day are the ones who sleep well at night, whereas the infants who don’t nap become too tired to sleep well at night time, .
So I started suggesting that my patients take a quick nap on the weekend. I thought if naps were only short, and early enough – about eight hours before the major sleep period – it was worth trying for these people who are often so debilitated and struggle to get through the day.
They loved it.
That’s despite the fact that napping generally doesn’t come easily for people with insomnia. They are scared to go against the recommendations and try anything that might jeopardise an opportunity for a good nights sleep. As well their sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive filling their bodies with adrenaline and cortisol. And some may have tried napping in the past, but felt rotten afterwards because they slept too long.
So I tell people just to lie down and rest and to set the alarm for twenty minutes in case they fall asleep. Even if they don’t fall asleep people report benefit – ‘ it bought me a couple of hours of energy during the day.’
It also helps them feel more confident with sleep at night as it address their obsessive fear of not being able to get through the following day. Knowing they can nap if they need to is like providing a safety net and helps reduce the worry that keeps them awake at night.
Napping helps prime people with insomnia for letting go into sleep at night-time.
After trying it people have said to me: ‘thank you so much it’s the best thing you’ve ever told me.’”
- Keep it short: set your alarm for 20 minutes. Much longer and you enter a deeper stage of sleep, which while restorative, can leave you feeling groggy.
- Nap early in the afternoon, allowing eight hours before major sleep experience.
- If you are feeling sleepy all the time, especially in the morning after a good nights sleep, see a doctor. This is not normal and can be a sign of other medical conditions.
Dr Moira Junge is a health psychologist who specialises in treating people with sleep disorders without medication. She is a recent chair of the Australasian Sleep Association’s Insomnia and Sleep Health Special Interest Group. Moira uses cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques as well as drawing on hypnosis, mindfulness and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), imagery rehearsal therapy (IRT) and well-developed counselling skills.