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Are “depression naps” actually a good idea? A mental health expert weighs in


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Social media has blessedly morphed from a place where users post photos of their (supposedly) nonstop-happy lives to a space for sharing how you’re actually feeling. With memes about the Sunday Scaries, heartbreak, and not wanting to go out on a weekend night, sadness is not only accepted, but often humored. The latest manifestation: depression naps.

Exhibit A:

depression nap meme
Photo: Instagram/@clvisuals

While it’s no doubt awesome that everyone is getting more honest online, lighthearted depression nap memes send a conflicting message: Are they actually healthy? After all, depression does legitimately affect the body.

“People have the urge to nap when feeling depressed for a couple of reasons,” says Helen Farrell, MD, a psychiatrist and instructor at Harvard Medical School. “One is that, as much as depression is a mental illness, it’s also a physical illness that leads to fatigue, sleepiness, and even bodily pain. The other reason is an avoidance mechanism, wanting to lay down and shut out the world.” But again—is that bad? Is there harm in shutting out the world for an hour—especially when your body does feel tired? Here, Dr. Farrell gives her advice.

Keep reading to find out if depression naps are actually good for your mental—and physical—health.

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Photo: Stocksy/Michela Ravasio

Ask yourself if you’re really tired

Asking yourself whether you’re tired because you’re depressed or you’re depressed because you’re tired is a chicken/egg situation—Dr. Farrell says it can be tricky to know which happens first. But she hesitates to say that you actually need more than the average eight hours of shut-eye a night either way. “What often ends up happening is that people will sleep too much and it will work against them because they are sleeping to the point where they don’t actually need it. Then it’s this awful cycle of feeling bad about themselves and having worse self-esteem and less motivation,” she says.

That doesn’t mean napping is always bad—Dr. Farrell says a little snooze can sometimes be restorative. “The key is when you wake up—either in the morning or from a nap—noticing if you feel well rested or not,” she says. If you feel pretty energized, any extra pillow time is just going to backfire.

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alarm clock
Photo: Stocksy/Alita Ong

Wean yourself off naps you don’t actually need

Are your daytime sleep habits forming a pattern? If you want to head to bed right after work every single evening or spend most of your weekends under the covers, there’s a major chance you don’t actually need all that sleep and just want to escape to Dreamland.

“After you figure out that your urge to take a nap comes from feeling depressed and you’re not actually tired, the key is to wean yourself off napping slowly,” Dr. Farrell. “Take a minute and realize, ‘These naps are actually worsening my depression,’ and set an alarm to make sure you don’t sleep longer than you need to. You don’t have to give up napping completely all at once, but start being conscious of it and limiting the length of time you spend in bed.”

Will it be easy? Probably not. Will it help you feel better in the long run? Almost definitely.

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to do list
Photo: Stocksy/Lumina

Revamp your to-do list

Even when you aren’t depressed, pulling yourself out of bed in the morning can be tough. (First thought: How do you turn off this god-awful alarm clock? Second thought: Ugh, I have so much to do today.) But Dr. Farrell has a little morning hack that could keep you alert all day.

“In the morning, it’s helpful to make a list of everything you want to do that day, sort of like a to-do wish-list,” she says, giving simple, realistic actions as examples, like walking to go get a cup or coffee of tea. “That way, later when you have an urge to take a depression nap, you have something that you were looking forward to doing instead.”

Dr. Farrell says everyone needs to factor in some fun to their day and something to look forward to. Other than bedtime, that is.

Speaking of depression, Google is taking a big step to help diagnose it—including high-functioning depression.

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