The Guilt and Glory of a Two-Hour Afternoon Nap

As a working dad with an almost two-year-old daughter (when did that happen?), I find myself in a near constant state of fatigue. I’m always tired. So, perhaps it was not all that surprising when I crashed out on the couch last week after the little one was put down for her afternoon nap. I thought I’d just rest my eyes for a few minutes, but we all know how that goes.

I’ll never get those two hours back.

The thing is that I feel this perpetual sense of obligation. I should be doing something productive every chance I get. Because I can work at any time, I should be working all the time. Leisure? Who has time for that? Whether it’s taking care of some household chores or taking care of my business, I should be doing something useful. There is always something to do.

But I napped instead.

A common piece of advice given to all new parents is that you should sleep when the baby sleeps. It sounds obvious enough, but it’s something that is much harder to put into practice. I have obligations to my clients. I still have a business to run, articles to write, and photos to edit. And as much as I would hope to the contrary, it is impossible to get any of that done when I have a rambunctious toddler running around the house, eager to play hide and seek.

When I asked my friends for some advice or insight, the general consensus was that it is equally impossible to drive without gas. So to speak. I was told that I had to take care of myself, because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to take care of others properly anyway. That’s true in life as it is in business. Logically and intellectually, I understand that. Psychologically and emotionally, I’m not there yet.

The appeal of taking an afternoon nap is that when you wake up, you’re supposed to feel refreshed. You’re supposed to feel re-energized and better equipped to face the rest of the day’s tasks. I didn’t. When I woke up, I just felt guilty (and still just as tired). I felt like I could have accomplished something instead.

I felt like I wasted my time.

The pragmatist in me said I could make up some of that lost time during the third shift. Unfortunately, my brain decided not to cooperate, striking down hard with a severe case of writer’s block. Very little got done that night and I eventually crashed into bed some time after midnight, exhausted and defeated.

The next day, I told myself I wouldn’t take an afternoon nap and I didn’t. I sat in front of the computer and got some work done. But after I put my daughter down to sleep for the night, instead of heading back to the computer for the third shift, I passed out on the bed some time around 9 or 10 o’clock. There was no gas in the tank. There was no flow.

What troubles me, above and beyond this, is that I didn’t have any looming deadlines. Nothing had to be done that day or that night. I had nothing terribly pressing on my plate. It all could have waited and the world would not have come crashing down. And yet I felt this overwhelming obligation to do something, because I also recognize that procrastination simply begets more procrastination.

At the end of the day, I am my own worst boss and my own worst critic. Maybe I just need to cut myself some slack. Maybe I need to develop a more effective system. Or maybe I just need more naps.