sleep when the baby sleeps

We’ve all heard it. In fact, I bet we’ve all said it at least once or twice. If I had a dime for every time I heard it while I was pregnant then…well, you know the rest of that old saying. It is the go-to advice from every battle-scarred seasoned mother to every bright-eyed novice: Sleep when the baby sleeps.

Yes. Sleep when the baby sleeps. Don’t worry about the dishes. Forget about the laundry. You don’t really need a shower today anyway. Forget everything, stop everything and when those precious baby eyes blink shut, make sure yours do the same. Moms are so insistent on this piece of wisdom it seems a little less like advice and more like a command, don’t you think?

In the beginning, sleeping when the baby sleeps is a pretty easy thing to do. There is no preparation for the struggle that is newborn sleep deprivation until you’re living it.  I know for me, I physically could not propel my body to do anything else but collapse in a heap. Even if it meant passing out on the living room floor for the entire second half of the Superbowl with a 4 week old on my chest, when my body craved sleep, I gave it sleep.

And then all of a sudden something changed. I don’t know if I just adjusted to my new normal or if the laundry piles grew so huge I started to fear losing the baby in a sea of socks, but somewhere in those first few months I began to feel all that sleeping while the baby slept business wasn’t appropriate anymore. Was I also supposed to cook dinner while the baby cooked dinner? Fold all that laundry while the baby folded laundry? Of course not. Eventually I just had to suck it up. No matter how tired I was, I needed to be getting other stuff done while the baby napped and if I didn’t…clearly I was some kind of weird, lazy failure.

Nap guilt. It’s a thing.

Now that we are far removed from the newborn exhaustion stage and my kid’s sleep schedule is pretty predictable, I give myself permission to nap while the baby naps pretty much never. Oh, that nap guilt runs deep. How can I nap when there’s this to do and that to do? If I nap that just makes me lazy. I can’t be lazy!

But sometimes…I’ll stay up too late browsing Pinterest/binge watching Netflix/drinking wine (oopsies!) and by the time the next afternoon rolls around I AM TIRED. So what happens? I conk out face down on the couch with the TV blaring and wake up two hours later feeling not at all refreshed but more like I just got hit by a truck. Napping STINKS, I always end up thinking. NO ONE should nap EVER. It makes you feel like some kind of awful combination of your worst ever hangover and your worst ever flu. I can’t BELIEVE I thought this was a good idea. I’m NEVER taking a nap again. But sure enough a few weeks later…I just had to stay up past midnight to finish that amazing book and the same thing happens again.


Turns out, like a lot things, I’ve been napping wrong. According to the National Sleep Foundation a mid-afternoon nap can be beneficial for adults. It can improve your mood, make you feel more alert and lead to better concentration, creativity and productivity. It does wonders for our kids (hello, after lunch meltdowns!), so why not the rest of us, right? The trick is, you have to do it right. Here are a few tips to get the most out of a nap – and avoid that nagging guilty feeling that comes along with it.

1. Keep it brief. The National Sleep Foundation recommends limiting afternoon naps to only 20 to 30 minutes. This is just enough to refresh your body and mind but not enough time to fall into a super deep sleep cycle. Sleeping too long and waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle is what leads to that icky, groggy feeling. Plus, planning a quick snooze while the kids nap allows for you rest your brain and still use that time for other things too.

2. Limit the distractions. If you’re committed to napping – then get right down to it. Choose a quiet, dark place and leave the phone, computer and TV off. I know I am so guilty of this – as soon as my kid falls asleep, I have to pull out my phone and read the entire internet before I do anything else. Using electronics right before sleep can make it more difficult for your brain to quiet so you can fall asleep quickly. If the goal is to catch a few winks and get some chores done during that two hour window the kids are asleep, you’ll want to make sure you can get that nap in (and over with) as quickly as possible.

3. Beware of the cozy factor. Ahhh, isn’t it the best feeling to put on your fluffy fleece jammies and snuggle into your bed with all your covers. Yes! But not for a nap. Being too warm and cozy can lead to sleeping too long, leaving you with that hangover-slash-flu feeling. It’s important to be comfortable enough to fall asleep (peel off those skinny jeans and lay down), but don’t trick your body into thinking it’s bedtime.

4. Watch the clock. Depending on when they got up for the day, most people feel the afternoon sleepies come on somewhere between noon and 4 p.m. But napping too late in the day can interfere with night time sleep leading a vicious cycle of feeling like you need a nap all.the.time. If it’s 5:00 and you haven’t squeezed in that power nap yet, skip it and get to bed early that night.

5. Don’t feel guilty! Moms, lets embrace the nap. We are conditioned to believe that it’s really not something a normal, functioning adult should be doing. I say, forget about all that. I say whatever refreshes you, whatever straightens your head, whatever makes you feel like a better parent – you should do that thing. If that’s a nap every once in a while, that’s okay! Just like when the babies were tiny – the dishes, the laundry, the shower can wait. Sleep when the baby sleeps and feel sane, whole and present when the baby is awake. Sounds like a winning combo all around.

Do you power nap? Any napping tips for us? Share in the comments!

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3 Responses to sleep when the baby sleeps

  1. Emily August 11, 2014 at 10:28 am #

    Something else for Moms and dads take your nap at the beginning of baby’s nap… Not “after you do…”,cause let’s face it. 1 thing turns into 10 abs then you lay down and the babe starts crying. Trust me . Lived it for the last 6 years. 😉

    • Erin August 11, 2014 at 9:35 pm #

      Oh yes – so true!! It’s the worst when you just settle in and the baby wakes up.

  2. Kim August 11, 2014 at 10:02 pm #

    I love this post! I actually just did this last week and woke up feeling TERRIBLE. I love how you describe it as the worst hangover meets the worst flu. So true. Plus, I felt terrible because LAUNDRY WILL NO DO ITSELF. 😉

    Great tips – 20 minute lap is going on my must-do list.

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