Accepting as a given that a majority of parents of young children are frequently sleep-deprived and therefore trudging through daily life in a haze that sounds like Curious George babble and smells like strawberry applesauce, this researcher set forth to assess and categorize optimal napping circumstances for said parents, so as to enable occasional (and unfortunately brief) respite from the chaos.
Bed or other soft-ish surface
Solitude – optional
Knock-off memory foam mattress topper – optional
Pajamas – optional
White noise machine or one of those soothing classical music-playing seahorse toys – optional
Bag of Target brand caramel cashew trail mix to snack on pre-nap – optional but recommended
Napping methods for parents of young children are as varied as strains of the common cold. Here are a few of the most typical we observed, and by observed I mean implemented.
The Co-Sleep: Wherein a parent curls up with a young child and takes advantage of said child’s daily “long nap” in order to catch some sleep of their own. Often adulterated by mid-nap feedings and/or kicks to the head, chest or groin, which disrupt the ever-important REM sleep cycle.
The Kitten Nap: Not long enough to be called a Cat Nap, the Kitten Nap lasts less than seven minutes, the time frame in which the parent’s spouse gives the child(ren) a bath, reads them a story or entertains them with a toy before throwing a stuffed animal at the napper’s head and demanding, “Wake up! It’s your turn!”
The iPad Nap: A good choice for a napper who’s reaching their limit of awake time. By handing an iPad loaded with Netflix and Minecraft to an older child, the parent can catch some shut-eye, at least until the battery runs out. This nap is ineffective with younger children or preschoolers who require their parents to “Look at this! Look, mom, a fire sheep! Hey, look at this hole I dug! Mom! Look!”
The “Steve Inskeep’s Voice is Just So Soothing” Nap: This nap occurs when the subject has woken for the day, dressed, consumed coffee and packed the child(ren) off to daycare. While preparing for work and listening to National Public Radio, the parent may think, ‘I’ll just lay down for a second while I listen to this story on cartels in the Chihuahua Province’ and then, an hour later they wake up to the jarring and creepy reality of Garrison Keillor opining on the “Word of the Day.” Steve Inskeep’s honey-tongued news delivery is a wonderful nap inducer, however this unplanned mid-morning nap can wreak havoc on a parent’s day, setting into motion a series of behind-schedule tragedies that rapidly unravel any good accomplished by the nap.
The Quality Time with my Partner Nap: It’s 8 p.m. and at last, parents can “connect.” (Not a euphemism. Usually.) Perhaps they sit down to watch a little True Detective. They crack open a bag of Boom Chicka Pop and… one of them is down for the count before the opening credits roll.
Alas, our data is somewhat inconclusive because we kept falling asleep. However, we can readily determine that the cumulative amount of time spent napping is, for the standard parent of young children, less than or equal to the amount of time lost to middle of the night child wakings, feedings, Pull-Up leakages that result in mattress puddles, random dog barking at a rabbit at 3 a.m. wake-ups, and so on. Naps are effective, but they are not a panacea when dealing with exhaustion.
Our society must do better by these cranky, foggy-brained individuals. We need to build siestas into work days, complete with napping rooms and cushy cots. We must urge the pharmaceutical industry to develop short-term versions of Ambien and Lunesta. Perhaps most significantly, the U.S. government must urge the children—all of the children—to sleep, damnit, so that their parents may sleep as well.