Back in my days at Penn State, a nap was an organized, planned activity. “What are you doing tomorrow?” might be answered with, “I have a morning lab from 8 to 10, then back to the dorm to sleep till lunch.” An envied schedule, that many worked hard to achieve, had no morning classes at all. Many plans of lifetime careers were abandoned by a class only available at 8 am.
Now my naps are unplanned. They set their own time, often unexpectedly.
Our sleep patterns undoubtedly change as we age, but for the most part, I see the change as good and only a problem if we still cling to the view of the old patterns of our teenage years as normal and desirable.
Our patterns must change because we have less stamina. We need a little refreshing nap to rejuvenate from almost any activity. Our bodies cannot wait for night to arrive. After an hour’s hike, a trip to the gym, or cutting the grass, I sit down and immediately fall asleep, but I awaken quickly and refreshed after only about ten minutes. What wrong with that? There is a story of an Arabian prince who thought falling asleep was such a pleasant luxury he had a servant wake him every hour during the night just so he could enjoy going back to sleep. I do that on my own, day and night, without a servant.
Waking is now much easier than it ever was. Getting up at 4 am to catch a morning flight is not a problem. I no longer have that long, groggy period we remember well from our teenage years. Even when I wake up in the middle of the night, I am instantly alert. That unpleasant intermediate stage, stumbling around half awake and half asleep, has largely disappeared, and good riddance. If you are visiting family with teenagers, the huge difference is obvious each morning. They move like zombies until noon while we have been up since dawn, taking brisk walks and enjoying our most productive time of day. Their smirking superiority as we trundled off to bed early the night before is gone. Revenge is so sweet.
If we periodically refresh ourselves during the day, there is no pent up regenerative demand requiring a full 8-hour sleep at night. We don’t need it and should be grateful. I seem to wake up automatically after about 2-4 hours and will often get up and read or do some little chore. I am, after all, fully awake and not staggering around in a daze. I appreciate these little gifts of productive time. Within an hour, I am ready to go back to bed and have the luxury of quickly falling back asleep. Even if I stay in bed staring into the darkness during these waking times, I can think clearly and can accomplish something constructive, like planning an activity, or developing a blog posting. When morning arrives, I remember it all clearly and can act on what I had planned.
Spend too much time dozing the day away and of course you will not be able to fall asleep come night. The trick is to find the right balance. Limit your naps, but if you still find yourself unable to fall asleep, thankfully accept this gift of extra conscious life and get up for a while. Enjoy it without guilt. There is nothing wrong with you. Different, perhaps, but not wrong.