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The One Thing I Do For Self-Care That Really Works

There are many practices that help improve our mental and physical health, but this is what's best for me.

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A Young Woman Rests in the Grass With Pet Poodle Dog
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I close the curtains and climb into bed. I pull the covers over me and call for my cat as he quickly comes to curl up by my side. I fluff my pillow and place it perfectly under my head, close my eyes and take a long, deep breath in … and a slow exhale out. I’m tired and wired, overwhelmed and anxious — and I’m in need of a relaxing reset. It’s not bedtime; it’s naptime

This is the space I carve out for myself to decompress. I strip away all the stimulation that bombards me throughout the day and create my own silent sanctuary. Taking a nap is my favorite form of self-care because it always restores and refuels me for the rest of the day.    

I can’t always get my naps in, as life and work and parenting can get in the way. There are some days I don’t feel the need. But on the days when I really need a reboot, I will often slip it in during the afternoon, when I tend to need it most.

If I’ve had a really long day, I will lie down as late as 5 p.m. while dinner is in the oven, before the evening’s activities begin. I’ll use that time of transition to quietly cleanse the day away, so I can better manage the night.  

My restorative downtime typically totals 30 to 45 minutes. It often takes me a while to wind down, so I don’t sleep for that long. Even if I only have 15–20 minutes, I will close my eyes and still myself, knowing even this short shutdown will do wonders. At times, I’ll fall right to sleep. Other times I don’t sleep at all, but instead I’ll process the day, plan what comes next and then fill the rest of my time with meditative prayer.

I used to feel guilty about indulging in what I felt was a selfish luxury, but I’ve grown to really appreciate its value in helping me manage stress. When I have cleared my head of all the day’s debris, I’m much more likely to be mindful of the decisions I make and more present in the moments that are important to me.

Experts claim that establishing a regular nap routine can increase your alertness, improve concentration and cognitive-functioning, enhance your memory, elevate your mood, boost your creativity, reduce your stress, and even improve your physical appearance and performance. 

There is actually a lot of power in a power nap, after all. The key to having a productive nap depends on how long you sleep and when, because napping too long can make you feel groggy and tired, and napping too late in the day can interfere with your nighttime sleep. The majority of resources claim that napping around 20 minutes is ideal for a mental and physical recharge.

But if you are in need of more sleep, 90 minutes of shut-eye will take you through the full sleep cycle of light sleep to deep sleep to REM sleep, and back to light sleep again. Any time in between can leave you feeling even more tired because you would wake up in the middle of your sleep cycle.  

According to the Mayo Clinic, choosing when you should take your nap will depend on your individual nighttime sleep schedule and your lifestyle and work hours. Your age and any medications you take also could play a role in determining the most beneficial time to plan your naps. And in order to get the most out of your siesta, you’ll need a quiet, dark place with a comfortable room temperature and no distractions.

Some people are just not nappers — and for good reasons. My husband hates napping because it always throws his sleep off at night. My best friend naps only when she’s sick and would much rather go to bed earlier to catch up on sleep instead of taking a nap. There are those who just can’t sleep during the day — no matter how hard they try. (But if you are a napper, you might check out this dream job: a company focused on sleep health is offering $1,500 for taking a nap every day for 30 days.)

There are certainly many different self-care practices that help maintain and improve our mental and physical health. For me, taking a nap happens to be one of my favorites, because there’s nothing like climbing under the covers and shutting my eyes and petting my cat and drifting away from this crazy world, if only for a short time.