In my experience, people either vigorously advocate for napping or are dismissive of it, perhaps exasperated by their inability to appreciate something that others insist is intensely pleasurable. “They make me so groggy,” the nap-averse will complain, perplexed and frustrated, desperate to believe that they’re not missing out on anything too fantastic. But they are! Napping is objectively a Good Thing, which is why I’ve come to believe that — like having a taste for cilantro — napping preference is genetic. Or rather, an inability to nap successfully is (probably) the result of some sad mutation in a random sequence of our DNA. Hopefully, one day, natural selection will take care of it for good.
You may have guessed that I am a huge fan of napping. I’ve always been a great napper; “nap” was the first word I learned how to spell, and my parents say I actually asked to take naps as a child. (My brother, meanwhile, was a demonic baby who didn’t sleep for the first three years of his life; I was obviously the favorite.) I still nap at least once a weekend, though I no longer ask my parents for permission.
Given my propensity toward napping, I simply don’t know how to explain the fact that it never occurred to me to take a quick snooze during my workday, despite working from home — often within spitting distance of my bed — for over a year now.
The thought came to me recently, after I ate a bagel for lunch. This was misguided; by 3 p.m., I was so tired that I could barely form a coherent sentence. On this particular day, I was working out of a corner of my bedroom. I made tantalizing eye contact with my comforter. That’s when I realized: I could have been napping all along.
I felt so stupid! My regret, sorrow, and bewilderment had the effect of rousing me from my post-bagel stupor, ruining my chances of napping for yet another day. I thought that surely I was the only nap-lover who had been missing out on this prime opportunity. From within this bitter imbroglio, I posed the question on my Twitter feed: Are all you WFH-ers napping?? The responses confirmed my suspicion.
“I usually nap for an hour or 30 minutes depending on how long I have,” says Kimberly Lara. She works from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day (plus occasional overtime), and is a full-time student obtaining a masters degree. “I’m usually not a napper [Ed. note: ????] but staring at a screen for hours on end is mentally so exhausting. My naps are truly my only breaks.”
“I usually feel depressed mid-day for some reason,” notes Maryam Perez, who says she naps for about 30 minutes, three to five days a week. “When I take a nap it's like a brain reset. I wake up feeling less moody and ruminative about life. I take it after I have any huge work calls or meetings. I power through the face-to-face contact and nap before I have to do online work.”
At first, Ebony Brown purposefully tried not to nap. She was still coming to terms with pandemic-induced anxiety, depression, and loneliness. “Now I’ve gotten to a place where I’m in acceptance of a situation I can’t control and I’ve acknowledged the fact that it’s boring zooming and booming all day, so I allow myself a small siesta, if you will — for no longer than an hour. And if I don’t nap while WFH, I’ll take a proper self-care lunch hour and watch General Hospital so I can come back to work with a fresh mind,” she explains.
Karyn, too, initially tried to squash her instinctual urge to nap. “I was against it and tried really hard to keep a routine, but once I realized COVID-19 was going to last a lot longer than we all thought, I started to take naps during the day,” she says. She created some strict guidelines for herself, including trying to keep them to 30 minutes, and taking them early enough so that they don’t ruin her nighttime sleep cycle.
Brown and Karyn’s hesitations both touch on something similar: a fear that napping during the workday could be the first step toward a complete breakdown of normalcy. The one anti-napper I heard from echoed the sentiment. “I don't think there's any harm in [napping while working from home] — people should do what works best for them! But for me, I found that keeping a structure is the best for my mental health,” says Annabel Fay. “I love a Sunday nap, but I've actually found since the pandemic there's been much less stimulation and stress, so I've needed less sleep in general.”
Despite the occasional aberration like Fay, it became clear that people were napping during the day, and despite some early concerns, it seemed to be working for them. I was ready to join their ranks. But the first time I crawled between the sheets during a lull in my workday and my energy levels, a familiar emotion overtook me: guilt. My laptop was pushed off to the other side of my queen-sized mattress, but I couldn’t bring myself to close it. I was afraid of being lazy — or more accurately, of looking lazy. The idea that I might let a message go unanswered for a full 30 minutes felt, embarrassingly, scary.
I knew the fear was baseless. My coworkers actively and enthusiastically encourage each other to take breaks. When we were in the office, I regularly popped outside to take calls, eat lunch, or just take a few laps and clear my head. The pressure to appear busy or be available at all times is not something I’m interested in reinforcing in our workplace culture. But this was a common concern among the WFH nappers I spoke to.
“If I nap I usually use my ‘lunch’ time to do it, but leave all my devices on in case any incoming calls or urgent messages are sent to me,” Lara says. Karyn keeps her work phone nearby, so incoming email notifications will wake her up. “I usually only nap on days when I don't have any meetings and I make sure to take care of any important or time-sensitive tasks before I lay down,” she adds.
Post-nap guilt can hit hard, though. Brown says she often wakes up feeling anxious about what she may have missed. Now, she makes a point of finishing one more task on her list before turning in. “I found that if I didn’t finish working after the nap, I felt like a failure and my anxiety kicked in,” she says. “So even if it’s a small task I get something done and creating this space helps me manage anxiety.”
Kamara Ferrell, on the other hand, points out that her napping routine is probably making her a better employee. “I used to be one of those people that didn't think it was possible to nap during the day and still be productive,” she says. “However, my perspective changed quite a bit over the last year, as I experienced increasing occurrences of insomnia. Daytime naps became somewhat of a necessity for me and I found that even though they were short, they still had a big impact — making up for the sleep I missed, replenishing my energy, and allowing me to feel more focused and refreshed during the day.”
While of course there are many benefits to being able to work from home — not least of which is personal safety during the pandemic — work from home burnout is a real thing. Really, we should be doing everything we can to support each other’s mental health, including encouraging each other to set aside an hour to take a nap a few times a week. Unless naps make you more groggy, that is; if that’s the case, I guess you can spend the hour some other, inferior way.