napping with my partner

To The End of Exhaustion: Learning To Choose Rest

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We are all busy. I get it. And naps are often seen as a luxury. Sure, a cup of coffee in the middle of the afternoon may help you make it through the last tasks of your work routine, but it also might make you a bit edgy. We’re learning more and more about sleep and stress, and I believe it’s important to get your priorities straight when it comes to your energy vs. exhaustion.

Let’s Learn to Relax

When we are kids, naps are often not our favorite moment of the day. Waking up from a nap, however, was delirious and energizing. “Dang, she fooled me into falling asleep again. Okay, I’m up and at’em now.” And some of us, as adults, also fight the urge to nap. We know our body would prefer a quick siesta, but something in our adult wiring won’t let us nap. Some people have a guilt trip about napping. (I think my ex-wife fell into this category.) “I can’t nap,” they say, “I’ve got too much to get done.”

Okay, but how much are you going to get done if you can hardly keep your eyes open? How much enjoyment are you going to get out of the evening family routine, if all you can think about is the moment you can get back in bed?

Let’s take back the nap. Let’s listen to our bodies. When the physical signals from our heart say nap and our head says press ahead, let’s take a moment to stop the acceleration towards accomplishments, and give our bodies the attention and love they need.

Sleep, Stress, and Coffee

I have been taking great control of my sleep, my stress levels, and my caffeine intake. My goal is to better understand what’s happening in my physical body as I press onward into a project when I’m exhausted vs. when I get the rest I need. I have noticed, when I’m not exhausted, I’m much more optimistic, flexible about desired outcomes, and forgiving when there is a miss. I am even more forgiving to myself when I make mistakes. But when I’m stressed or tired or both, I’m harder on myself, I eat more impulsively, and I tend to vibrate with an almost irritating buzz. I notice when I’m driving that I’m mad at all the cars in my way, slowing me down. This is when I make note, “Um, John, you might be a bit under-powered. Let’s take a break.”

I know, there are times when you simply cannot take a nap. When we’re working in an office, for example, there are no George Constanza hammocks under our desks. There’s very little opportunity to nap in the course of our workday. (But, entering the pandemic and remote working, I’ve learned even more, how a 20-minute nap with an alarm, can give me an edge for the afternoon push. I’m refreshed. I don’t need more coffee. I’m more relaxed and less pressured by my lack of motivation or energy. I’m a better person after I’ve had a nap.

Can we learn to give ourselves the breaks we need? Can we rewire our own self-governance to allow the occasional nap? How about making a deal with our partners and our kids, “If we’re exhausted, we don’t need to finish the movie. We will enjoy it more when we’re not struggling to stay awake.”

Priorities and Personal To-Do Lists

I know some people really need a clean and tidy house. I know some people simply must do the dishes immediately upon finishing a meal. I’ve been in a relationship with someone who thought leaving clothes in the hamper or in the dryer was stupid. The clothes needed to be washed, the dryer needed to be emptied as soon as the buzzer went off. I’m not one of these people. I can leave clothes in the dryer until the dryer is needed again for the load behind them.

So, we are wired differently. But let’s consider, if this wiring keeps you from feeling your exhaustion because you truly don’t think you have many choices in your stressful chaotic day, perhaps there is a process you can begin, a dialogue you can have with yourself, that goes like this.

“I’ve got to get all the furniture for the new room built and put in place.”

“Why, what’s the hurry?”

“I like it when things are in their proper place.”

“But what about that song you started last night?”

“I don’t have time for that now.”

“And what if you knocked off early and went to bed rather than built the furniture?”

“Why would I do that?”

“You’re stressed. You’re tired. And you’ve already done a lot today.”

“Yeah, so what! The furniture has got to be built.”

“Yes, at some point, the furniture has got to be built. And today, there is simply no urgency about the furniture. I’m more interested in finding ways to support your energy and mental health.”

“I don’t have time for that.”

“Oh, but you will. If you don’t make time to recover and rest, you’re going to feel the stress in new and different ways. Let’s not go down that road.”

For My No-Nap Friends

It’s okay if you don’t want to nap. It’s okay if you think my naps mean I’m lazy. But, I think you are missing out on two great things. 1. the papable sigh I experience when I let go and lay down for a nap; 2. the joy I get from waking up refreshed and reenergized.

Don’t like to nap? Don’t. Don’t have time to nap? Reconsider your body and emotional needs. Rest gives our brains a chance to checkout, reprioritize, and reset. Give yourself that joy. You may lose 30-minutes of productive time, but you’re going to regain hours where you are less exhausted and stressed.

Naps may be my superpower. Finding a partner who also loves to nap, might be on the shortlist of compatibility.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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