Health psychologist Dr Moira Junge from the Melbourne Sleep Disorders Centre says it’s time to challenge the fear syndrome surrounding napping for people with insomnia. 

Google ‘insomnia’, visit a sleep website or talk to a sleep specialist 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.

Right?

Well, maybe not.  Talking with NapNow, Dr Junge shares her observations about her clients’ experiences from her clinical practice.

 

“ I used to discourage napping in my clients, until about four years ago, because that is what the literature recommends.  But 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 sleepy during the day, often in the early afternoon.  This would perturb them, but it was actually a sign that they were getting better.  As their adrenaline levels started to settle down, they began to feel more sleepy in the afternoon which is natural for all of us.

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 how short naps can improve daytime alertness and increase quality of life.  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 nighttime, as they are as they are over-stimulated.

So for those who were feeling the need to nap but were too afraid to, I started suggesting a quick weekend nap.  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 night’s sleep.  As well their sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive filling their bodies with adrenaline and cortisol, leaving them wired and tired.  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 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 addresses 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 seems to help prime and prepare people with insomnia, for sleep.    They can practice letting go during a nap and then again with their night-time sleep.

 

After trying it some people have said to me:  ‘thank you so much it’s the best thing you’ve ever told me.’  “