I used to nap most days. The earliest recollection I have of taking a nap when I probably shouldn’t have was when I was about 7 or 8 years old. I got home from school and was supposed to be going to my friend’s house once I got changed. Instead, I lay down and went to sleep.
My parents were not impressed, and neither was I. Even at that age I felt guilty, having messed up my friend’s plans. I still feel guilty looking back on it.
That was a one off in primary school (as far as I can recall, or want to recall anyway) but then about halfway through high school I picked up the bad habit of napping more regularly. I didn’t nap every day, but it was still often enough to call it a habit. Once I got to university however, the odd nap became the regular nap, and it was almost a must when I started working as well.
This continued into 2020, when I decided I was wasting far too much time, and had to change things. I didn’t change one individual thing, so I can’t pinpoint which ones were most influential in my endeavours to stop napping.
But if you also suffer from the perpetual urge to nap, then my goal with this article is to just put down everything I did in the hope that, if you can adopt some of them yourself, you will be able to fight off that urge more often as well.
If not, most of these habits will probably make you a little healthier anyway.
1. Drinking More Water
This one has been the bane of my life for years. I live in Scotland, which as you can imagine is hardly a warm climate. It’s the polar opposite. In fact, it’s borderline Polar. For this reason, we Scots don’t lose as much water naturally as many of our friends in more tropical, Mediterranean or even temperate climates do.
This means we are not quite as naturally thirsty as most websites tell us we should be, which makes drinking the supposedly required several litres of water every 24 hours seem ludicrous.
However, we can but try, and try I have, usually to no avail. But over the last year or so, I started drinking smaller amounts, but more often. This has allowed me to drink a minimum of 1 litre of water per day, alongside various other drinks like juice, coffee and tea.
I drink a glass of water when I first wake up, and I find this aids that waking up process. While not necessarily having a direct effect on my urge to nap, anything that makes getting up easier is a good idea in my books. So, drinking more water is one thing I changed.
2. Less Screen Time Before Bed
This one is a well-known habit that is encouraged for those that struggle to get to sleep. I will be the first to say that putting away my devices for an hour before bed does not always allow me to fall asleep faster, so it definitely isn’t a panacea for that particular problem. However, I do think it improves the quality of my sleep.
I try to abandon my main devices at least an hour before I plan to sleep (key word here is plan). This usually means my video game of choice or my laptop, as I rarely use my phone for much more than replying to messages at that time of night.
I don’t have a set time limit. I am just consciously aware of when it is getting late, and when I should hop off the PS4 or shut down my computer. This is something I have employed more strictly in the past 6 months or so, and thus I think it has a lot to do with my current lack of napping.
3. Going to Bed Earlier
This one is straightforward, but it doesn’t have to mean bed by 10pm. Instead, I simply took midnight as my limit at first. I’m hardly a night owl anymore anyway, at the ripe old age of 22 I just can’t whack these late nights anymore!
All jokes aside, I took this limit and then, over time, slowly pushed it back towards half 11. Then I took it back to 11 and marked that as my cut-off time for lights off. I put my phone down about half an hour before this and read up until then if I can.
If I push it a bit further than I ought to, perhaps by doing one too many laps on F1 2020, or by taking on just one more writing task at 10pm, I move my “bedtime” back accordingly.
As long as I’m asleep before 12am, I’m usually fine. The key thing is that I set a maximum limit as well as a time I plan to be in bed. It gives me a sort of range for getting to sleep, which takes the pressure off trying to stick to one particular time.
This makes falling asleep easier and getting up less of a challenge as well. But more importantly, it makes for a more consistent sleep schedule, and that is is vital to ensure I don’t need to nap the next day.
4. Making Reading Before Bed a Ritual
This one has been tough on many occasions, but it has been a great way to mix two great habits into one. Reading before bed has allowed me to up the number of books I’ve been reading, while also tiring myself out in healthy way, ready for a good night’s rest.
I find that reading for about half an hour is the minimum to see a noticeable effect, but longer is better. Still, even just reading a few pages each night is still a good way to get the habit going.
Whether or not this directly correlates to less naps I’m not sure, but once again I think it has improved the quality of my sleep, which ultimately seems to help with the napping.
5. Forcing Myself to Stay Awake
There were days in the past that I would be falling asleep at my desk, and I would feel like I just had to nap. Everyone has had this feeling at some point, but it usually comes at the end of a long day, not at 2 in the afternoon. I used to just cede to this desire and throw away valuable time in the day.
So, over the summer of 2020, I started just forcing myself not to give in. This doesn’t just involve saying to myself over and over to not lie down, as you need to be proactive with this. Instead, I get up and go a walk. Or I change up the task I’m doing to something more mentally stimulating. Often, it’s just a case of going downstairs for a glass of water.
If it was later on in the day, I would just go a walk until dinner, and then eating would wake me up enough for the remainder of the night.
The important thing is to simply keep myself occupied. After about 10 or 15 minutes, I have fought off the urge to nap enough that lying down no longer feels like a must-do activity.
While it might seem impossible at first, the urge to nap is often a short-term feeling that can be fought through, rather like the short-lived pain you feel when you bang your leg off a table. Sure, it hurts like hell at first, but do you even remember it 15 minutes later?
Repeating this over time made it easier to resist the urge to nap. Willpower is very important when forming or breaking any habit, and when it comes to napping it is absolutely paramount. This is definitely the change that had the most direct impact on things.
6. Continuing to Drink Coffee!
This is one I feel quite strongly about. I love coffee and have used it throughout university not just as a stimulant or a tasty hot beverage, but also as a sociable thing.
I like going out for coffee with friends. I like to sit and chat with my family while sipping on a (botched) homemade latte, and I just enjoy taking a break to sit and drink one as I gather my thoughts in between tasks.
I have given up coffee in the past for 2 months, and this seemingly arbitrary timescale was simply the one that I wanted to test out. I had a few days of headaches, and then I was fine.
But I didn’t feel like a new person, and I still missed the taste of coffee. So, I’m not really in any mood to give it up again, for marginal gains and fairly undesirable losses.
I was determined to give up napping without giving up coffee, and I can proudly report that it is *engage inner Joe Rogan* entirely possible to do. I don’t rely on coffee to stay awake, but instead I just manage when and how often I have my coffees (see below).
7. Planning My Caffeine Intake
I used to have a coffee with my breakfast every day, which was because I didn’t want to have to wait until I got into the city where I go to university and have to buy one or take one on the train with me straight after brushing my teeth.
But I would also do this on my days off, as it was a habit. About 6 months ago, I moved the time I have my first coffee to around 9am or an hour after I get up, whichever comes first. This has largely been possible due to the Covid pandemic, which has meant everything is being done from home. But this would be doable in some sense with a travel mug or by just buying my coffee a bit later.
I then have my second coffee (out of a *loose* maximum of 3) before 12. If I have another, I try to make sure it’s before 2pm. This is a personal preference, and it seems to have worked for me. I am well aware that plenty of people think caffeine has no effect on their sleep cycle, but that is a debate for another time.
There is such a thing as a caffeine crash, and while I don’t personally experience a massive reduction in energy and alertness in the afternoon, I do find that I can extend the period of time that I feel most alert if I have my first coffee a bit later than I normally would, and then have my second before a rough time limit (basically lunch time).
These last two tips are the ones I think might resonate well with frequent nappers that have read too many posts telling them that coffee is bad and you shouldn't drink it after 7am. Sure, caffeine can have different effects on different people, but personally, I didn’t have to give it up to cut out the napping!
As I said in the beginning, these changes I made are the ones I think are responsible for my ability to resist the urge to nap, and for the absence of that urge altogether on most days.
But even if they don’t help you in your own pursuit of wakefulness, I think they are healthy habits to adopt anyway!