Catching a Nap When You’re a Parent is Like Trying to Catch a Mythical Beast

Prior to becoming a parent, I was a napping PRO. I have insomnia and crazy sleep issues that have left me waking up exhausted for most of my existence, so I utilized the mystical force of the power nap to keep me going on a regular basis.  In the weeks leading up to the due date of our first child, one of the most common pieces of advice I received was “sleep when the baby sleeps”.  I quickly learned that while this might be the first thing that pops out of people’s mouths, it is often the last thing that is realistically going to happen, at least after the first few weeks of delivery.  Now that I have a toddler, and baby number two on the way, napping still sounds great on paper, but the reality is far from the fantasy. Here’s why:

1.  It’s Easy to Get Caught in the “I’ll Nap Right After I Put Away These Few Things” Trap, because it feels better when the house doesn’t show the full extent of the damage an F5 Toddler Tornado can do. Nap time is one of the few opportunities during the day when it is possible to cook, or scrub, or de-clutter, at least without constantly having to stop what you’re doing to investigate impish laughter, (or scarier still, utter silence) or without sidestepping a freshly dumped bucket of Legos or an upturned tub of flour from the pantry (though this won’t happen until after you vacuumed and mopped this section of the floor).  Just picking up a few things can very easily spiral out of control, as parents seem especially susceptible to getting sucked through invisible wormholes and zipped through time and space, causing what you’d think should take ten minutes to actually take an hour and fifteen.  By the time you plop down on the couch, your lower back is sore, and you can barely keep your eyelids pried open far enough to peer out of, and you can bet your ass the baby will start tossing and turning within five to ten minutes of being seated.  You thought the nap was within your grasp, and you’re still not sure how it eluded you, but somehow you were fooled. It was all a mirage and any illusions you had of catching some zzzzz’s slipped through your fingers, once again.

2.  New-Parent Hormones Result in the Development of Unparalleled Hearing. Suddenly the tiny ear cups we have as humans are able to funnel the same quantity of sound waves into our eardrums as those of an African elephant. This must be an evolutionary tactic, for the preservation of small children, but for parents this can be exhaustingly detrimental to one’s health.  Even from several rooms away, without the use of a baby monitor, all possibly-baby-related sounds are amplified.  You will hear when the baby rolls over, you will hear when the baby makes a snorty sound through his nose, you will hear when your baby sucks on his finger.  Small babies make a LOT more noise than one might think when they are sleeping, and each time they do, hormone surges result in a body being able to leap from the a prone position straight onto one’s feet, without any intermediary steps, in about 0.3337 milliseconds.  Even if you manage to remain horizontal, hormones work like witch’s sorcery, making baby blinks sound as loud as thundering hooves, and it’s impossible to sleep through that racket.  It takes awhile for those hormones to dissipate, but eventually there will be a few times when your kid rolls off the toddler bed and you may not hear the thump, which one would imagine would be much louder than the newborn baby blinks.  I suppose no spell lasts forever.

3.  Phantom Noises Keep You Up.  You will definitely hear every sound your child makes, but even worse, sometimes you start to teeter on the edge of sanity (and maybe even take a slight dip on the other side) and you start hearing your child even when there is nothing to hear.  Like, when you think you hear the baby crying, but when you go to check on them they are perfectly silent and they clearly haven’t budged an inch. Or, when your baby is staying the night at grandma’s, but you’re still hearing him.  And you might go check the crib …. just in case.  For months I was hearing phantom baby cries, that sounded like my daughter, but seemed really, really far away.  Little creepy ghost cries that made me feel like I was in a Blair Witch scenario in my own home. They were hushed and dim sounding, but were loud enough to wake me regularly, giving me that heart-attacky feeling in my chest.  Eventually I realized I was hearing air going in and out of my cat’s left nostril, making the faintest of faint whistling sounds.  What the eff?

4.  Nap Time, Like Bedtime, Can Be Filled With Anxiety and Fear.  It is very possible you’ve reached an exhaustion level similar to that of someone who just swam across the English Channel, and you are at the point where you physically flop over the moment you put your child down.  Your right eye will remain cracked open until your kiddo stops adjusting and fussing, and you think he’s snoozing soundly and you finally allow your body to relax.  You start to fade into a blissful slumber and then RIGHT before you drift off to sleep, PING! your eyes will pop open and the damn adrenaline surges return and you will wonder why your little angel is snoozing so soundlessly … and you PANIC! PANIC! PANIC! and bolt from the couch so you can place your hand on your child’s chest, feeling for the cyclic rising and falling. I probably could have consolidated numbers 2, 3 and 4 and just said that adrenaline surges are not conducive to napping.

5.  Nap Time is One of the Only Times You’re Able to Sit and Relax.  Even if your house is clean (enough) and you’re physically and mentally drained, you still might not get that longed-for snooze. While it sounds great, you find that it takes a level of exhaustion comparable to that experienced after hiking a large segment of the Himalayas, sans sherpa, for you to pass up the opportunity for a little unexpected Me Time.  Thirty minutes to sit on the couch?  To sip on a hot cup of coffee and not worry about spilling it on your kid’s tender skin?  To sit in silence with no yelling, crying, or the Frozen soundtrack blaring in the background? That golden trifecta is better than all the riches found in the kettle at the end of the rainbow, my friends.

6.  “Sleep When the Baby Sleeps” is Only Hypothetically Possible When You Only Have One Child. Um, so yea, people seem to forget that if you have more than one kid, the odds of having only one nap time are on par with the odds of the hundreds of moons within our solar system aligning. More often than not, not only do you miss out on the nap time, but you miss out on the bonus cleaning time.

7.  There are Always Other Unexpected Nap-Jackings.  A salesman rings the doorbell.  Sirens blare through your windows.  I used to be an expert Car Napper, when my husband drove I could be asleep faster than my car was able to accelerate from zero to sixty.  It was a sad day, shortly after the birth of my first child, when I realized I could no longer recline the seat of my car back far enough to nap comfortably, because it was impeded by my daughter’s car seat.  Nooooo!  Another unexpected and tragic napping dead-end.

Every so often a golden napping opportunity appears before you, similar to when a lucky hiker is able to snap a photo of a yeti lumbering across an arctic ridge.  It’s unbelievable and you try your hardest to preserve the feeling the golden experience provides, like one tries to capture a snapshot of the wooly beast. But the memory, like the image, (and the yeti) is often fuzzy.

Any other napping road blocks I missed?


Napping When You're a Parent Hardly Ever Happens
Napping When You’re a Parent Hardly Ever Happens

27 thoughts on “Catching a Nap When You’re a Parent is Like Trying to Catch a Mythical Beast

  1. Wow! You covered everything – – having six kids I can honestly say that I found that particular strain of advice from people completely maddening! Equally frustrating would be participating in “The Sleep-Off.” Of course that’s when you play a game of Chicken with your Spouse in bed. Each of you bluffs that you’re in the soundest of sleep and have not heard the baby crying. Until one (female) person cannot stand what her hormones do anymore and flounces out of bed, shouting, “I KNOW you can hear him!” Great post….thanks. Brought back tons of memories.

      1. Nope, not just yours. lol

        Also hard to nap when the only time the baby sleeps is on your chest. Won’t sleep in crib or pack and play, on your chest only……..that’s how L was. So glad we’re past that stage….

  2. SO much truth! I have two little boys (1 and 3) so you just described my world. Just nap when the baby does? Obviously spoken by non-parents or those who have post-traumatic stress disorder and have blocked the horrors of raising small children from their memories. Great post!

  3. Instead of napping when the baby was sleeping, I gratefully put my feet up and sagged into the couch in exhaustion when the baby was nursing. Thankfully he did that for 28 months, as nursing time was the only time I got any rest at all. He was 2-1/2 before he slept through the night (once only), and I jumped out of bed every ten minutes to make sure he was breathing! He just turned 41 — we obviously survived — but it was touch and go for awhile. Thanks for a great post! – Fawn

  4. You really hit the nail on the head there! Nap time is 99% nonexistent for moms. Even if you only have 1 child, like you said, suddenly your body doesn’t let you sleep too. You start making a mental list in your head of all the things you still haven’t done and NEED to get up off your ass and do. Then to procrastinate you decide you need to physically write down the lost you thought of. And then because you didn’t write as you made the mental list you sit there for several long minutes trying to remember what you wanted to be on the list. Once that is complete you sit on the couch, thinking “just for a minute”. You close your eyes, sigh a deeply exhausted sigh, and then when you’re just about to get up to tackle the first thing on your list, pen in hand to cross off the item after you’ve done the chore, the baby and/or toddler starts to whimper. You sit stock still and hold your breath, hoping beyond hope that the child will settle down and stay asleep. Just when you think it’s safe to breath again, you stand up off the couch, take one step in the direction of where the chore is that you want to do, and BOOM!!! full blown crying and screeching ensues and now you must forget the list, pit it down on the kitchen counter along with the pen and go get the child. Now the child is hungry so you have to make them something. Then they’re thirsty and they need water and they take their time with that one last drop in the bottom of the cup. You start getting impatient. You’re now tapping your foot with your arms crossed and you wanna scream “just drink that last damn sip already!” But they’re just a toddler and you bite your lip until it’s practically bleeding cuz you don’t want to use profanity when speaking to your young child. Finally, the last sip is gone. But you still can’t tackle any of the chores on your list because now you have to change a wet diaper. So you change them and what do they do? Darn near immediately the child poops because they don’t like pooping in a pee filled diaper. Now you change the child again, all the while you’re thinking of the list of chores you need to do that you never got done during nap time. But now it’s almost dinner time and hubby will be home from work soon and you forgot to take out the chicken from the freezer that you planned on making for dinner. What to do? What to do? Oh yes, and during the whole of baby/toddler madness, you forgot to eat and you find your forgotten mug of coffee that you made way earlier that morning just sitting on the counter. You dump it in the sink while the child is at your feet hanging on you like a baby finger monkey, whining and wanting you to hold them because toddlers and babies are usually clingy to the mom. This now slows you down because you don’t want to trip over the tiny human and hurt them and yourself. Hubby walks in from work, you know which is oh so very hard and exhausting (sits on his ass in a nice cushy office all day), plops down in his recliner and in less than a millisecond is snoring so loudly people in China can hear it. WTF??? so you have had enough. You say eff it and order pizza for delivery, you put the chicken you were supposed to thaw in the fridge cuz you’ll cook it for tomorrow’s dinner instead, plop the baby/toddler down on the living room carpet, make sure the baby gate that keeps them contained in the room is closed, locked and secure, and you drop onto the inviting couch and close your eyes. *long feels really good sigh* and the doorbell rings, the baby starts crying, hubby is still snoring away, completely unconscious,so you go to the door, baby in arms or toddler pulling your pants down and sticking their head up your but trying to hide from the pizza delivery man all while signing the receipt and trying to hold 2 large pizzas with one hand. You manage to balance the pizza, the kid, and yourself and get them to the counter. Suddenly hubby appears, gets his pizza and ignores the fact that you could use a little help and walks away with half a pizza in a pile on his plate. Thanks hon, thanks a lot! Right? You finally get the child settled, get your pizza on a plate, go sit down on the couch with it, only to bite into room temperature food. Now you don’t want to even eat. Now you just want to go to bed. But after you bring your cold pizza back to the kitchen and drop it on the counter you look around and see all the chores you didn’t do, on the list that you wrote, which wound up forgotten and so you load the dishwasher. You wipe off the counters. You realize now that you haven’t gone pee all day and your bladder feels like it’s about to explode in a hot yellow shower everywhere so you go to the bathroom. Now either the baby is in the other room crying and hubby is ignoring them while he stuffs his pie hole with pizza, or the toddler is freaking out that you’re in the bathroom without them and is screaming, crying and pounding tiny chubby fists on the door. You’re done. You wash your hands and exit the bathroom and immediately get plowed into by the over dramatical toddler, you nearly lose your balance and flap your arms like a bird in flight without any gracefulness but “phew!” you managed by the grave of God to remain on your feet. Is it bed time yet? Mama wants to crash nut the child took a nap so they’re rearing and ready for hard core play time. Damnit. Some time after midnight, eyes are open to barely a slit, your feet are shuffling on the hardwood floors because you’re too tired to lift them to take real steps. You climb into your wonderful, glorious, better-than-sex soft fluffy pillow top mattress bed, close your eyes and then your alarm clock starts blaring, scaring you awake and practically giving you cardiac arrest because it’s time to get up for the day. And so the cycle repeats itself…. Nap time: a very serious subject! Hahaha (sorry that I just wrote like a whole book practically lol I’m Italian and we Italians talk too much, too fast, and we never shut up!) And speaking of sleep…. it is 11:05pm, my Toddler Tyrant is passed out on me on the couch, and I’m exhausted past the stage of utter exhaustion, so I’m going to bed while she’s actually sleeping! She’s going to be 3 years old in August and she still wakes up at least once a night looming for me and wanting milk! And see? I did it again. I’m rambling and I really need to end this and shut up now! Goodnight!

    1. LOL. Hilarious. My daughter (nearly 4) STILL wakes up for milk and help to pee several times at night. Love the description of your day…., but didn’t your better half look around your home and say “What the heck did you DO all day?” Not even once? Seriously. You are a lucky lady.

  5. I once saw a cartoon that said something like “They say you should nap when your baby naps, but how can you sleep when you’re driving?” That pretty well summed up my daughter’s nap times.

  6. brilliant, just brilliant. I have always been rubbish at napping, but now I’ve got two little ones I wish I’d got more sleeps in before they were born. My two NEVER sleep at the same time. It’s like they tag team being awake through the day. Fun for them, knackering for me.

  7. When I had an infant, I could sleep in 3 hour blobs round the clock and STILL manage to feel completely EXHAUSTED. Sleep needs to be in at least a 6 hour chunk to do anything for me. I guess that’s what coffee is for….
    When people offer sleep advice for parents of newborn babies, don’t you just feel like they need a good punch in the face? Completely useless subject. OF COURSE you are exhausted. You have a baby. You’re not doing anything wrong. Everybody with a new baby feels like crap.
    And – yes – I did #4 a LOT with my first. Great title, btw. I’m writing that down. It’ll be the sleep advice I give the NEXT new parent I see!

  8. Thanks for the chuckles! Now that my little BoyGenius is 10, I find it way too easy to doze off, unexpectedly, in the middle of the afternoon. Taking those 15 minutes to sit and enjoy a cup of tea and some crossword puzzles has turned into far too slippery a slope.

  9. I miss naps, so much. Every day, I miss napping. This post was spot-on and hilarious!

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