Reviewed by Heather Cashell, LCSW
The demands of everyday life can be overwhelming and exhausting, often driving us to seek moments of respite if we’re feeling restless. Sometimes when a certain issue or situation can’t be resolved right away, “sleeping off” feelings of frustration or anger can provide more clarity or energy to look at things from a different perspective. But can sleeping become a mechanism of avoidance rather than a way of resolving sleeplessness or a lack of sleep? Yes. Can a lack of sleep and depression be intimately tied? Also yes. You may have even heard the act of sleeping as an act of avoidance and can be referred to as taking “depression naps.”
While sleep is crucial to our well-being and everyday productivity, irregular periods of sleep during the day, and lack of quality sleep might potentially be more harmful than we think. Taking depression naps or deliberately going to sleep to avoid uncomfortable emotions might indicate other serious issues. It should be addressed to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
What Makes A Depression Nap Different From A Typical Nap?
It’s normal to feel exhausted and to want to find ways to recharge. Napping is a common practice among people of all ages and backgrounds. Depression naps, however, are naps that are often taken as ways for individuals to momentarily escape reality by being asleep more so than ways of charging up or gaining energy to accomplish things upon waking.
The naps typically last longer than what would be recommended by health professionals, varying anywhere from one to four hours (sometimes longer) than a healthy ten or twenty minutes, as outlined by the Mayo Clinic. And although short bursts of sleep can help boost energy levels for someone who is feeling fatigued or anticipates losing sleep, like they would working a night shift as an example, regularly turning to long, extended naps typically mask larger problems.
It’s important to determine why someone chooses to nap during the day as the need to nap may be tied to different things such as sleep deprivation, depression, or a sleep disorder, such as insomnia.
Taking long naps during the day or oversleeping is often referred to as hypersomnia. There are several potential causes for hypersomnia among individuals, some of which include:
- sleep apnea
- head-related injuries
- prescription drug side effects
- genetic predisposal
Depression is often expressed in many different ways as a mood disorder that affects mental health and physical health and often takes a toll on the sleeping patterns of individuals who experience this condition. Sleeping patterns and depression symptoms vary from person to person, but studies show that insomnia and depression and hypersomnia and depression are strongly connected. It’s reported that approximately 75 percent of depressed individuals experience insomnia, while 40 percent of young adults with depression experience hypersomnia. Some individuals can experience both during a depressive episode.
Will Taking A Nap Help Me To Feel Better?
It really depends on the individual’s needs since sleep should certainly be prioritized if someone is feeling extremely fatigued or exhausted. Someone experiencing depression and insomnia may benefit from a nap early in the day because they might not derive enough energy from their disrupted sleep at night. However, napping during the day could hinder their ability to fall asleep later if they don’t feel exhausted enough. This creates a cycle and a dependence on naps that can be difficult to resolve or break.
If your sleep schedule is consistent and your mental health is generally stable, then a nap here and there can help to resolve some feelings or stress tied to specific moments of exhaustion. Choosing to sleep as a way to cope with things other than exhaustion may allow you to momentarily escape feelings of hopelessness, negative feelings about yourself, or anything else you might be avoiding, but whatever you’re avoiding will still exist when you wake. And continuing to choose sleep as a coping mechanism may significantly alter your sleep quality, making it harder to handle things. Napping may even become a form of self-sabotage and may create more stress or anxiety upon waking. For example, someone who takes a depression nap to procrastinate an assignment may wake up feeling guilty and even more overwhelmed because they will have less time to complete the assignment.
So while it’s important to make sure we don’t deprive ourselves of sleep when we feel we need it, it’s also crucial we learn to recognize and embrace our emotions in addition to practicing healthy coping skills so that sleep deprivation and depression become manageable rather than becoming drivers of our lives.
How Can I Stop Taking Depression Naps?
If you notice that you’re frequently taking naps or are concerned napping may be hindering your quality of sleep, here are some suggestions as to how you can break out of the habit:
- Keep A Sleeping Log. Tracking your sleep habits can help you to find a pattern. Try to write down when and how long you’ve slept in addition to whether you felt the quality of sleep was good. It may even help to write down why you slept if you’re electing to sleep during the day to find causes or motivations for sleeping. Having a log can also be helpful if you decide to seek outside help to show your findings to someone who can help diagnose what the underlying cause for your need to sleep is.
- Create A Peaceful Resting Environment. Make sure your bedroom or wherever you’re experiencing sleeplessness is conducive to rest. A good sleeping environment should be dark, temperature-controlled, and quiet to avoid creating distractions or disturbances. You can also try limiting activities you do in bed or in your bedroom to retrain your brain from associating the space with other activities that typically keep you awake.
- Shorten Your Naps. You may be oversleeping if you don’t feel better after naps but still want to sleep during the day to recharge. Try aiming for ten to thirty minutes to avoid sleep inertia or feelings of grogginess upon waking and find a sweet spot in terms of length. Shorter naps are also less likely to interfere with your sleep quality at night, which may help you feel less tired the next day.
- Do Some Physical Activity. Engaging your body in physical activity and moving around can help you to feel re-energized or more awake. Getting your heart-rate increases your body’s need for oxygen, and focusing on your breathing can help relieve any anxiety you may be feeling. Exercise is also tied to the release of neurological hormones that make us feel better, like dopamine and serotonin. Getting regular exercise may also help you feel more exhausted at night, improving your sleep quality and decreasing the number of times you might wake up.
- Spend Some Time With A Friend. Find A Support Group. Taking naps during the day can socially isolate an individual from others, leading to more feelings of loneliness over time. Talking to a friend if you’re feeling down or finding a support group can be helpful in terms of talking out feelings or frustrations you’re harboring. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by tasks, take a break and call a friend or a loved one. Talking on the phone or video calling someone could be a nice way to keep yourself occupied while doing simple tasks, such as house chores.
- Try A Hobby That Makes You Feel Good. Finding an activity that makes you feel good can act as an outlet for your feelings. Playing an instrument or making art, for example, may help you to focus on something else for a short amount of time if you’re feeling overwhelmed, which could help you to feel more centered or focused.
- Seek Professional Help. This is perhaps the most important, especially if you notice feeling perpetually distressed or frustrated with your sleep habits. If your sleeping habits begin affecting your life, such as your schoolwork, professional life, or social life, it’s generally a good idea to seek help to get a handle on things. It’s especially important if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, insomnia, or anxiety to seek help if you find yourself extremely overwhelmed. You’re not alone, and a licensed professional can help diagnose issues as well as provide guidance on how to treat them.
Does Taking Depression Naps Mean I Have Depression?
It’s best to let a licensed medical professional determine your diagnosis. Because sleep and depression are so closely linked, experiencing irregular sleep or sleep problems might indicate that you’re also experiencing depression. Taking “depression naps” or sleeping for long periods during the day, however, isn’t necessarily a tell-all since insomnia, or the inability to stay asleep, is also commonly linked to depression. Your desire to sleep during the day could be tied to a number of things, such as sleep apnea, depression, or a lack of sleep due to other factors. This is especially true for younger folks who have popularized the phrase. They may be exhausted from staying up late to do schoolwork, spending too much time in front of a screen before bed and depriving their brain of a chance to slow down before bed, working odd hours, or not as equipped to handle stress, all of which lead to poorer quality of sleep.
If you’d like to learn more about depression or want to see if you’re experiencing similar symptoms, taking this quiz can be a good starting point to figure out if you should consider reaching out to licensed mental health professionals for an official diagnosis.
Symptoms of depression like a low mood, lack of energy, or trouble concentrating may accompany exhaustion or your napping habits, making it difficult to know where to start. Seeking professional help can be extremely beneficial and life-changing. You’re not alone, and you certainly don’t have to figure out what’s going on with your sleep alone, either.