Nap in Progress: Surviving Gatherings and Holidays

Pick the name: holidays, family gatherings, friendly get-togethers. No matter what it’s called they all invoke similar increases in symptom severity. They also know no season and can pop up any moment.

For those without cataplexy, it can mean disrupted nighttime sleep, increased sleepiness, escalated brain fog, and disoriented transitions from sleep to awake (and awake to sleep).

For those with cataplexy, it can mean all those experiences plus slurred speech, droopy eyes, slack jaws, buckled knees, or in the most extreme cases, status cataplecticus.

Getting ahead of holiday stress

Narcolepsy type 1 or 2, if holidays are stressful, they can wreak havoc on symptoms. Even joyful moments can bring on profound sleepiness and a cataplexy tumble. Home field advantage is a help for me, but that can be accompanied by the stress of hosting and preparing for events.

How does a person with narcolepsy prepare? I have found 3 approaches to be very helpful during this time: napping, communication, and trigger avoidance.

Napping

Napping is the best narcolepsy treatment for me to make it through holidays and family time. This approach includes both strategic napping and rescue napping. Invariably “Uncle Jules” will drone on about antiquated political/religious ideology. This can elicit fierce emotional responses. If I know in advance, I can nap around these triggers. If they sneak up, I can nap after them.

Strategic napping

Strategic napping keeps my narcolepsy nemesis at bay, allowing me to maximize my productivity. Some planned naps are 15 to 25 minutes, while other naps are 1.5 tp 2 hrs, dependent upon the schedule. Rescue napping is for situations of spontaneous sleepiness. Family meals and present openings are 2 nap-inducers. Accepting this, I can plan accordingly.

Rescue napping

When the weight of the moment descends upon my shoulders, naps are my rescue. As the brain fog settles across my mind, clouding the light of wakefulness, naps are my refuge. Retreating to my sleep cave does not mean I am giving up, instead it is a sign of self-care. REM to the rescue.

Communication

Communicating with family and friends is critical during these times. I make sure that those closest to me and event hosts understand that the Sandman is coming. Before the get-together, a phone call or text are helpful reminders. As much as my world revolves around sleep, I need to remember that the moment doesn’t revolve around me.  

I have found that explaining my requirements ahead of time reduces any ambiguity or misunderstandings A room set up for naps and quiet time makes for reduced stress. Earplugs or headphones can be helpful in silencing the din coming from the den. If it is going to be a new environment I try to call ahead and ask for a nice napping spot.

Prescription planning

Discussing refill needs with healthcare providers can make a profound difference. Additional anxiety added to the holidays is a recipe for an increase in symptoms. A missed refill might result in a DEFCON 5 situation. I never want to repeat the feeling of realizing I need to make 3 days worth of meds last 5 days. It’s a small detail that makes a big difference when it goes amuck.

Avoiding triggers

Avoiding toxic relationships and triggers: I love all my family; I just don’t like spending time with all of them at once. After my divorce, I noticed a tangential benefit of avoiding folks I didn’t mix with. That’s not to say that avoiding others is always the answer. Holidays and get-togethers are not the time to address years of disagreements.

That young man dating my cousin seemed decent until he told me he was a Duke basketball fan (I’m a Tar Heel fan). Sometimes I have to address situations on the fly. Once I recognize a new source of frustration, I avoid it.

Positivity and self care

The most important people in my life are my 3 kids. During stressful moments, it is important I am focusing on them. As a co-parent, there are some holidays and family gatherings where they are with their mom. Those are times of increased vulnerability.

Awareness of this fact helps me to remain focused on the best self-care possible. Without my kids, my naps increase. I recognize that about myself. I give myself grace.

My primary source of self-care is strength training. A good lift goes a long way to make it through the holidays and family gatherings. I try to anticipate the need and schedule appropriately.

Contingency plans for stress

Stress causes an increase in frequency and severity of my symptoms. There is no way to eliminate all stress from holidays and family gatherings. Situations of stress will arise, and I need contingency plans in place.

It’s up to me to identify and implement my plan. Ultimately if there is a cataplexy trigger, I want it to be from joy with my kids and not from confrontation. The World’s Strongest Person having narcolepsy with cataplexy approved this message.

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