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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

In Defense of Naps

If you’ve ever been to Rome, you’ve probably been shocked by something you saw there. No, I’m not referring to their many highly-skilled pickpockets nor to their buses stuffed to the gills with human beings. No, I’m referring to the Roman practice of siesta.

If you’re shopping near the Vatican, for example, precisely at noon many of the shop keepers will shoo you out of their tiny stores, bolt their doors behind you, and stay closed for several hours while they eat lunch and rest.

It’s not just Rome either. It’s all of Italy. And France. And Spain. The afternoon nap is a venerable tradition in many countries–though in some places the tradition is eroding. I for one wish we North Americans would adopt the siesta or nap. Admit it. After you eat your lunch, don’t you feel the natural inclination to take a short snooze? Most of us feel this urge, but in our culture we ignore it. In fact we fight against it. We guzzle more caffeine, we splash cold water on our face, and we push onward into the afternoon. We assume (because of our Puritan background I suspect) that nothing as pleasurable as a nap can be morally decent. Besides, sleeping for 30 minutes or so in the middle of the day is terribly unproductive–and we Americans pride ourselves in our productivity. After all, we can’t let those Chinese or Russians or Icelanders get ahead of us!

That’s why it’s good to consider the cat, the expert in napping. The writer Barbara Holland says, “A perfectly healthy cat can nap through the entire month of February and wake feeling all the better for it.” Cats don’t let their responsibilities interfere with napping: all those uncaught mice, all those balls of yarn to play with. Instead they simply lower themselves into “sensuous, fur-lined sleep.”

I confess, I take a nap almost every day. I explain this laxity by saying, “It’s my age.” I never tell my age, but I will tell you this: I have been around the sun 68 times! And all those frequent flyer miles have taken their toll on my body. Hence I nap. I also nap because of a physical condition I have, one that is accompanied by persistent fatigue. See? I’ve given you two very good excuses for napping–as if I couldn’t just say: I nap because it feels so good–and I feel better when I wake up 30 minutes later.

When I nap, I’m in good company. The poet John Milton supposedly wrote Paradise Lost in bed. Winston Churchill wrote all those voluminous histories in between his daily naps–and sips of brandy. And all the recent Popes took naps too. I bet Pope Francis will! I fully realize that napping is not practical for everyone. My dentist better not nap while he’s working on my root canal–and the pilot better not nap while she’s flying me to Omaha.

Did Jesus take naps? Maybe. In his culture, napping was acceptable–largely because of the heat. And didn’t he fall asleep in a boat once–so soundly he would have slept through a terrible storm if his friends hadn’t awakened him? And if you still need convincing to take a nap, don’t forget those beautiful words from Psalm 127: “It is vain for you to put off your rest…to eat bread earned by anxious toil–while God gives to his beloved while they sleep.”

The author napping.

What are some of your thoughts on napping?


35 Responses

  1. I love to nap and I’m a young 37 year old. If I don’t nap, I nod off in front of the TV, while I writing, or reading. I think the mind and body do not like it when you push it too hard without letting it recharge.

    1. Dear Theresa, I’m glad to hear that you like naps too–despite your relative youth! Some people don’t take “formal naps”–actually lying down on the bed. But they might “nod off” while sitting in a chair. Same thing! I agree with you that we have to listen to our mind and body more! They are very wise! Thanks for writing! Sr. Melannie

  2. I am taking a psychology class at college this semester, we talked about sleep. It is actually a good thing to take naps and get a good nights sleep. It helps with memories, you dream about memories during the day. It has been tested that more people will remember things after a nap or sleep so taking naps is a good thing.

    1. Dear Tiffany, I’m glad your psychology class supports taking naps and getting a good night’s sleep. I’m convinced my naps also help me with my writing. I might be struggling with an article. Then I’ll take a nap, and when I wake up, the writing goes much more easily. Thanks for writing! I hope you (a college student) get enough sleep! (Go, Zips!) Sr. Melannie

  3. Love the picture, Melannie! Sleeping like a baby! I love getting into my recliner chair and kicking back for a nap. But I actually prefer to SLEEP IN LATE (like until 9:00 a.m.), and then I don’t need a nap. That is luxury. Either way, getting extra sleep is a gift and a good thing for our bodies. Thanks for the reminder that being good to ourselves is also good for us, and we don’t need to make excuses for getting “extra” sleep.
    Melannie, Thanks for your writing week after week. Always insightful, always food for thought. I’m still sharing your books with others, but I always want them back. I just finished “Rummaging” for a second time, and now it is inspiring a friend. Any new books this spring?
    Love & prayers, dear friend! ~ Betty Nagel

    1. Dear Betty, Yes, God bless the inventor of the recliner! You’re lucky you can sleep in late–thus dispensing with the need for a nap. I saw on the news recently that doctors say that many Americans are essentially sleep-deprived. Thankfully, you and I are not in that group! Thanks for your enthusiasm for my books. Twenty-Third Publications (my publisher) is re-launching my book “Everyday Epiphanies” this Spring. It has been out of print for several years–but now it will be back… Take care, Betty….Melannie

  4. Thanks you for writing Sunflower Seeds. I have been enjoying it for a number of weeks now, and you always give me something to think about. Have a good nap!

  5. Dear Sister Melannie,

    I too take a daily nap but often longer than thirty minutes due to my chronic fatigue and other health issues. I wish I’d feel refreshed but often that is not the case. Thank for sharing your thoughts on NAPS.

    Your Sister in Christ,
    Sr. Karen Marie, SND

    1. Dear Sister Karen Marie, How nice to hear from another Notre Dame! You are wise to take those naps–even though you may not feel as refreshed as I do after mine. A nap can be a form of humility! …Thanks for writing! Sr. Melannie

  6. Sometimes, if I haven’t had too busy of a schedule in the morning, I will go to my car and take a power nap during lunch! Sometimes 20-30 minutes is just enough. Although I’ll admit, sometimes it has the opposite effect and I want to sleep longer, but man……………..that’s some good sleep there! Then I’m much better around the 3pm slump!
    Hey, Melannie, love the room! It reminds of my room when a child with the “bungalow” ceilings!!!!!!

    1. Dear Chris, I love the idea of going out to your car during lunch for that quick power nap! Some people go out to their cars to sneak a smoke. Your choice is much healthier!…Yes, I sleep in our “attic.” The ceilings are low, but my bedroom is so quaint! I love it! Thanks for writing, Chris!

  7. Hello Sister Melannie,
    I, too, think that naps are a gift from God. Since I retired last June I have been able to get the rest I need. My four cats have taught me that naps are good, and make us nicer to be around if we are well rested.
    The prayer group I belong to [the Emmanuels] used your book TRAITS OF A HEALTHY SPIRITUALITY a few years ago. Thanks for your prayerful insights, and sense of humor.
    May God continue to bless you.
    – Joan

    1. Dear Joan, Congratulations on your retirement! You’re right: getting enough sleep “makes us nicer to be around.” It fuels our generosity and patience! I’m glad you liked my book. God bless you too! Sr. Melannie

  8. Melanie,

    It is almost sad that our culture virtually denies nap time for adults and yet mandates it for little children. While those who are very young, need naps, so do we who are getting older, maybe even more so. I find that most of those required to take naps, don’t want to and those old enough to want to aren’t allowed to. Very interesting!

    On a more serious note, several years ago, being sleep deprived, I fell asleep while driving. Thankfully, a rumble strip awakened me in time to get control back so no one was injured. Since then I am very aware of the need as well as the joy of napping. It is very refreshing.


    1. Dear Larry, Thank you for your insight on naps in our culture. Also, thank you for reminding us of a serious consequence of sleep deprivation–namely traffic accidents. I just checked out the facts. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports there are 100,000 car crashes a year resulting from drowsiness. In those accidents there were 1550 deaths. I’m glad that rumble strip woke you up! Thanks again! Melannie

  9. Hi Melannie,
    Oh, your bedroom looks so cozy! I love your quilt; I could definitely nap in there.
    I suffer from chronic migraine and so, must nap in the afternoon when possible. Now that I am recently retired, it makes it much easier! I hope the Europeans do not give up their wonderful tradition in an effort to be
    more competitive like us North Americans.

  10. Hi Sr. Melanie
    There’s a picture by Br. Mickey McGrath of the Holy Family resting under a tree…it is peaceful, humble, and tender…

    I have a postcard of it tucked in front of a copy of the Merton Prayer…”My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going….I will trust you always….”

    I don’t take many naps… but when I do, I ask God to be with me in all things…even my nap…and then I can relax and get some shut eye!

    Thank you

    1. Dear Marian, I love the picture of the Holy family resting during and their flight to Egypt. I like baby Jesus in a cradle hanging from the tree and the hat on the donkey. What a beautiful and tender reminder for us to pray for everyone uprooted from their home. Thank you for sending the link! Yes, may God be with us in all things! Sr. Melannie

  11. Thank you for sharing that lovely photo of you napping! At my age-and-stage, I’ve come to appreciate the gift of a good nap; so much so that I’ve categorized my “top 10”-enjoy!
    1. the “catnap” not so named for the duration of the nap, but because you notice how the sun shines through a window and is hitting your sofa or comfy chair just so and you can’t resist curling up for a brief time with a beautiful sunbeam (like a kiss from God!).
    2. the “warm and cozy” the sleep that takes over when you find yourself in front of a fire with cup of tea or cocoa
    3. “recovery nap”- necessary when you are feeling ill and know that no over the counter medicine will make you feel better than a nap.
    4. “comatose” this is the nap usually taken after a Thanksgiving meal (some say induced by tryptophan in turkey!) which renders the sleeper unable to move their limbs as a football game plays in the background
    5. the doze-still aware and hear what’s going on but in a delightful semi-dreamlike state; I often pray during these times too as my mind drifts to those that are in need
    6. the vacationer-can be done on a lounge chair, at the beach, in the sun, pool side or anywhere “away from it all” where the mind literally cannot be preoccupied with a to-do list because there is nothing to be done but relax
    7. the Psalm 46:10 – being still and grateful for the peace and quiet and aware of God’s presence, blessings and love
    8. Summertime snooze-with windows open and a fresh breeze, curtains blowing and the sound of either lawn mowers in the background or children laughing and playing
    9. the great outdoor sleep-on a blanket on the grass or on a screened in porch where you can hear the birds singing and the trees talking
    10. the “5 more minutes” shut eye-this happens when you wake 5 minutes before your alarm is going to go off or the 5 minutes after the alarm goes off when you are so aware of the warmth of your blanket, the softness of your pillow

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Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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