I Put Down My Badge of Busy and Took A Nap Instead

Balancing Busy with a NapYou’re expecting a metaphor, aren’t you?

The truth is I took an honest-to-goodness nap today. And it’s so important, I’ve actually decided to write about it.

It wasn’t a particularly exceptional nap in any regard other than the fact that I actually took one. A lot of times, I think about resting. Occasionally, I even make declarations about napping. But. I seldom follow through.

More often than not, when I try to sleep, I make mental lists. I think of all the things I could be doing. The lessons I could plan, the freelancing I could complete, the things I could declutter, the offhand remark I made when I had coffee with a friend a few weeks ago that suddenly merits replaying 87 times. My brain is anything but quiet.  

The other day, a friend explained that his partner is a “head on the pillow and out” sleeper. But he said that he really takes some time to turn his mind off. “It takes me a good 10 minutes.”

I was floored. Unless I’ve taken Benadryl or been knocked unconscious, there is no way I sleep like that. Bedtime, naptime, it simply isn’t happening. I am not a good sleeper. Period. No amount of exercise, melatonin, or meditation matters. 

I suck at sleep. But I also seem to have mostly decided that I’m not deserving of rest. And that’s a problem.

The Hustle Culture

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” 

We’ve heard it, said it, and thought it. Now, thanks to social media, the notion of grinding 24/7 pulses across the Internet. We wear our busy-ness like a badge of honor, inventing new ways to look and feel more productive. It’s a permanent state of being. 

The fact that we’ve decided that hustling is the ultimate panacea is wildly problematic. Yet, we don’t just grit our teeth to get by. Instead of powering through, we promote it. We no longer encourage and expect busy-ness of only ourselves; we expect everyone to hustle harder.

Don’t make enough money? Hustle.

Don’t like your job? Start a business.

Want to take a vacation? Pick up a side gig.

Can’t cover your medical bills? Hope you can still walk dogs for Rover.

I can’t think of that last time that someone discussed a problem without someone else suggesting more work as the ultimate remedy. Hard work has its merits. In fact, going to work is something to be proud, whether you love, like, or hate your job. But the idea that work is the ultimate–or even only–hallmark of success is frightening and dangerous. Yet, we all seem to have made peace with it if Instagram is any indication.

I Was Raised Busy

A body in motion tends to stay in motion. That Newton was a smart cookie. It’s not just a law of physics, it’s also the story of my life.

While I’d love to blame the idea of busy-ness on society as a whole, I’ve been busy since birth. I was raised this way. For as long as I can remember, my parents worked. In fact, my mom has retired with a full pension not just once, but twice. And she now helps raise my son and works part-time. 

My dad owned and ran a shop for over three decades, and he’s still always tinkering. When he’s not also helping raise my son. 

It’s isn’t just that my parents both worked, but they truly enjoyed their work. And I feel very much the same. I was raised to see it not just as a source of pride, but also an opportunity to socialize with peers and contribute to society. Instead of pressuring me into anything, my parents pushed me to do something I loved. 

But that opportunity didn’t come from just anywhere. Part of why my parents were willing and able to let me pursue my passion is because they worked so hard to lay a solid footing for our family. They loved their work, and the sheer quantity that did was never lost on me.

My dad was responsible for me in the mornings because my mom left for work at 3 am. He’d pull rollers out of my hair (#80sbaby) and do his best to perfect my ponytail. Then, we’d climb in his car or his tow truck and head off to daycare. (Where, more than once, my teacher tried to give him a quick lesson in hair dressing. Thank goodness side ponytails were trendy because that’s where my bow landed most days.)

My mom wasn’t the only working all sorts of odd and awful hours. Before he started his business, my dad had all sorts of jobs. Graveyard shifts, split shifts, he worked constantly. Much of their busy living happened prior to my birth, and my parents still reminisce about their ability function on a single hour of sleep–a “One Hour Martinizer”–as a means to balance work and life.

(Clearly, they have no idea just how old that saying makes them. My mom shares a birth year with good ol’ Martin.)

Balancing Busy

The world is busy. My family is busy. My own life is busy.

And for me, many times, this busy living is very much a choice. 

To be clear, busy is a fine choice, as long as it is, in fact, a choice. More often than not, though, I find myself getting swept up in a sea of expectations. When you live in a world where so many people see hustling as the means to a better life, it’s hard to slow down. 

And that makes it all the more essential to pause.

My normal week consists of teaching full time, and freelancing for a half dozen or so clients while my son naps on weekends or sleeps at nights. Very regularly, I clock an extra 10, 20, or sometimes even 30 hours of work. 

When people stop and ask me, “How do you do it all?”, I used to smile and shrug. When pushed, I had a litany of polite, non-committal responses. 

But recently, I’ve started to tell the truth. Part of how I’m able to do what I do is I only sleep for five or maybe six hours a night most nights of the week. It isn’t the answer people want, but it’s a truth people need to hear. 

It’s also why it’s so important for me to tell the world–and myself–that I took a nap. I slept for two full hours on a Sunday afternoon. There might have been a toddler’s foot in my side and an arm in my face for much of it, but I rested. And it made for a great day. 

Busy isn’t the only way to live. Not always, at least not for me. Sometimes, building the kind of day that I want means sacrificing some rest. Other times, it means reclaiming it. 

So Tell Me…How do you let yourself rest? And what can I do to turn myself into a person who falls asleep in 10 minutes?!

And also, if you’re not familiar with Tim Kreider’s “Lazy: A Manifesto”, consider this my Monday-morning gift to you. I listen to it at least once a quarter and have for years. Still, I aspire to be a fraction of the lazy that he is. 

25 Comments

  1. Penny–I am deeply feeling this post. Can we start a “slow living for women addicted to busyness” movement?

    Also, I am overcoming my fear and started reading “Why We Sleep,” and it’s just as radically undermining my beliefs that I’m “fine” as I thought it would. I recommend it.

    • Diet Coke?

      I’m generally so excited by all the things I have going on that it kind of fuels me along. But it’s not sustainable. So I’m trying to commit to less for the fall and winter.

  2. I appreciate your parents so much even though they are complete strangers. My mom never worked and growing up (my dad passed very early on) she wasn’t much of a role model. I’ve been working since I was 14 trying to support her and myself. I still financially support her. My husband and I are raising our son with zero help from family. One of our goals very early on is to teach our kid to have a strong work ethic. Rest is also incredibly important but honestly, to survive and provide for your family – rest is sometimes a luxury. Whether its the physical or mental workload, I’ve been programmed to be on at all times. I, like you, can’t switch off my squirrel mind and its both a blessing and a curse.

    I appreciate that you took the day of and snuggled/napped with HP. There is no greater joy than kid snuggles. Nice work lady! 🙂

    • I won the parent lottery, that’s for sure. They’re not perfect, but I have always had a sense of how lucky I was. I feel it more so now that I am a parent myself.

      Now what do we do about these squirrel minds?!

  3. I have chronic fatigue, so I’m forced to moderate my activities. In a (very annoying) way, it’s been good for me in that sense because I was raised to go-go-go just like you. It’s generally unsustainable long-term (so kudos to you for doing it for so long), and not great even for a healthy body. So the one and only upside the chronic fatigue is that it’s made me stop and listen to my body. Exhausted?* I take a nap (or try to when *my* brain will shut up for a second — I have the same problem you do). Or just lie down. Or even cancel a planned activity. Whatever it takes to slow down and take it easy on myself.

    *I know you probably weren’t “exhausted” but tired is my baseline, so extra tired means I’m most people’s version of exhausted.

    • I truly appreciate your perspective on this. I think because I *can*, I often confuse that would *should*…if that makes any sense.

      Now how to actually quiet our minds, you know? 😀

    • I am positive I would probably be better at life if I slept more. I think I’ve finally said “no” more than “yes” for October. That should help A LOT.

  4. I relate to so much of this, especially how I was raised to take pride in working constantly, My relationship with sleep sounds similar too. I take forever to fall asleep, sleep really lightly, and my mind turns on instantly if I wake up at all. My wife is the opposite and can sleep deeply anywhere, for either minutes or hours. I’m envious but just not wired that way. I don’t nap well and usualy feel worse when I wake up.

    We’ve tried to set up a routine sleep schedule that gives us 7 – 7.5 hours a night during the school year. We were partially successful last year, but slip off it easily. It’s one of our personal goals for this school year. We’ll see how we do – so far we’re at about 90%.

  5. We shouldn’t need to wait until our bodies can’t function anymore and I hate that our culture glorifies sleeplessness like it does. I wholeheartedly believed in it and lived it for so many years and it was a disaster for my health.

    I can’t believe that I had to be forced to come around on the subject of naps. In the first three years of JB, I was addicted to them for survival but once ze dropped the naps, it started to feel like a guilt-ridden thing again and I didn’t like that at all.

    The chronic stuff means I don’t have a choice though. There are weekends when it doesn’t matter what I want. The pain and fatigue get overwhelming when I’ve been active and I simply cannot go one step further so I’d better make sure there’s a soft surface to land on. JB’s started to understand that this happens, sometimes, and has even occasionally tried to send me to bed for a nap! Which is kind of a funny thing to experience: a 3 or 4 year old stopping by your office and scolding you for not going to bed.

  6. I think I’m fairly good at getting things done. Not as good as I’d like to be, but who is? I think we all wish we could do more. I’m also pretty good at making sure I get a reasonable amount of sleep; seven hours most nights. I tend to get sick if I don’t get enough sleep, and I’ve finally learned that I lose more productivity time being sick than I do by going to bed on time.

    Some of the things to help me fall asleep are silencing my phone, limiting screen time before bed, and having some sort of bedtime ritual. My husband gets up pretty early for work, and is honestly a total jerk when he doesn’t get enough sleep. We spent years asking people not to text/call after a certain time, and a few people just wouldn’t respect it, so now once we’re both home in the evenings we silence our phones until the next morning. I’ve read that the light from computers and phones can be very detrimental to going to sleep, so I try to stay away from screens at least an hour before bed. It doesn’t always happen, but I’ve stopped keeping my laptop in the bedroom and that helps. Having a bedtime ritual is a huge help for me too. It’s nothing elaborate, but when I go to bed (usually after I read for a while) I put on chapstick, put on hand lotion, and put my glasses in a case. That’s usually enough to signal my brain that it’s time to go to sleep.

  7. Thank you for writing this.
    I am endlessly dreaming of the time when “everything in my list” will be done and then I’ll take a nap! The reality is that will NEVER happen. You just have to decide to take the nap! 🙂

  8. I completely relate to this!! Both of my parents worked a lot when I was growing up. At one point, both of them had two jobs at the same time so working hard runs in the our family.
    Even before we had kids, I was only sleeping like 5-6 hours a night and now with two boys, my sleep pattern is all over the place: 3 hours one night, 4 hours the next, 2 hours night after and so on. Although I can fall asleep within the first 10-15 minutes I lay to bed, that counts for something right!? I either lay down and think of nothing or listen to some calming music, have you tried that yet, Penny? If not hopefully it can work for you.

  9. My husband’s parents did the same thing- one took day shift one took night shift/ evening shift to take care of them. AND she had the home sparkling clean. It makes me feel sh*tty for feeling like there’s not enough time in the day.

    I fall asleep very easily and start snoring within seconds lol. But yeah, it’s 1:15am right now and I’m commenting on blogs! Not enough time in the day with young kids. I think I sleep around 6 hours a day but we really should try and aim for 7+.

  10. Penny, I needed to read this today. I’m constantly finding myself running on 5-6 hours of sleep a night. I get get by for a night or two but after a while I crash. With two kids there is pretty much no time for napping either.

    As much as I hate to admit it, putting down my phone more often is probably the first step in getting better sleep. When I turn off my device more than an hour before bed and read a book I sleep so much better. Do I do this usually? Of course not. Us humans are so strange.

  11. It was said previously that tired was her baseline. I feel this deeply. I can fall asleep nearly anywhere and anytime. It’s the staying asleep part that I struggle with.

    I find going to bed “exhausted” works two ways: you can go to bed and crash instantly, or you suffer and just lay there.

    Try making those lists and checking things off so you feel a sense of satisfaction. Journaling can be helpful too. Also, less than 8 hrs sleep is supposed to lower your life span. Oh, and I do not have a tv in my bedroom – it’s a sleeping room. That can help too.

    It’s a choice until it becomes your norm. Good luck.

  12. Okay, I can’t nap because I will be completely useless for the rest of the day, but I do fall asleep as soon as my head touches the pillow. Unfortunately, sometimes Mr. Tre likes to come to bed a few hours later and wake me up to talk about something. Then I’m up for the rest of the night.

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