COLUMN: Nap supply never matches nap demand

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. A shorter version of this piece was broadcast Saturday on KAXE’s “Between You and Me” program.

Nap supply never matches nap demand
By Aaron J. Brown

My boys are entering that early educational stage where the phased withdrawal of the afternoon nap has begun. Henry, the first grader, regards the institution squarely in the rear view mirror. Doug and George now begin their final preschool classes before kindergarten next year, the last curricular gasp of sleeping rugs.

Now, as with all great social changes, the absence of the daily nap in the boys’ lives has long been a practical reality. The idea of going into a room during the day, remaining quiet and sleeping for 45 minutes to an hour now seems absolutely insane to the boys, and the marked increase in parental insanity must surely be related.

The end of naps marks a tough transition for parents. You know, we’re not anything special: just giant baby-children who grew into hairy, misshapen adults, got jobs and mortgages, learned how to fake our way through conversations about insurance and/or relationships. Then one day, through means that are neither routine nor fully understood, actual babies become our responsibility. And during this time there is only one handhold on sanity for some, especially parents of twins such like we were, and that is naptime.

I hold so many memories of the time at home with a two-year-old boy and twin newborns. Actually, scratch that. I hold almost no memory whatsoever of this time. I remember diaper changes so frequent that they sort of blend into a never-ending diaper memory, a psychedelic array of colors and textures still stinking up a corner of my mind. I remember reading the final installment of Harry Potter on the midnight shift, learning how to bottle-feed a baby with one hand while turning pages on a 19-pound book with the other.

It was the time the kids napped that we got to wander around our house, doing grown-up things that no longer seemed as important as sleep, glorious sleep. Naps, glorious naps for all. And then they turned 2. And then 3. And now 4.

Whether it’s a formal nap or even the parental-enforced bedtime at night, it’s funny how kids resist the notion of sleep so forcefully as this age, and presumably several ages yet to come. It’s been several weeks since anything I would classify as a nap for myself and yet now, even now as I am writing this, I crave a nap. At the end of the year I catalog the great naps – a stolen hour of half-sleep while the football game was on without anyone changing the channel, the post-meal stupor, the peace of being home alone that one time.

The household member who gets the most naps is, without doubt, our dog Molly. This 10-year-old cairn terrier has staked out her own sleeping zones throughout the house, using them in some sort of ranked preference system based on the position of the sun. I’d say there is great wisdom with this one, if she didn’t spend six hours a day barking at a squirrel up a tree in our backyard, the squirrel yelling back and throwing acorns at her.

A final irony exists for those with insomnia, adults who seek sleep but cannot find it. I have known this Shakespearean twist at times, usually owing to anxiety or stress. How great the power of a nap, and how elusive naps can be. The small interruptions. The great noises. The endless pull of work and chores. I used to judge those who retired to a life of naps. Now I sometimes envy such a life, though I doubt my ability to achieve it.

In the sleep markets, which rise and fall with fluctuating demand throughout our life, the value of sleep is never as high as when you cannot have it.

Aaron J. Brown is a writer and community college instructor from the Iron Range. He is the author of the blog and the book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.” He speaks Monday at the TEDx 1000 Lakes Conference in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.


  1. My son and I have one area o which I know we will never understand each other:He can nap any time, anywhere, for an hour or two or three. I can’t even nap when I’m sick, and falling asleep easily at night is rare. Son’s trait made me absolutely terrified of having him learn to drive, because as a passenger, he was awake about 10,minutes. He’s never been able to understand how come I’m consistently up before him in the morning and long after he goes to bed at night. My only chance of napping is if I can find a sunbeam to file up on in the afternoon. I envy cats.

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