Sleep has never been an especially easy task for me. Like many people, the unsoothing nature of the past year have made my attempts at a good night’s sleep acutely hellish. Lately, I do what I expect most of us do: jerk awake offensively early after spending hours clawing my way to sleep, spend a few minutes negotiating with my brain over its level of commitment to being awake before giving up, rolling over to pick up my phone, and blasting my retinas in the dark to see what what people on social media haves been up to. Recently, buying something called a “nap dress” is one thing many of them have been up to.
For months now, my social feeds have been dotted with declarations that someone else has “finally” ordered the Nap Dress, something I hadn’t heard of until New Yorker writer Rachel Syme wrote a piece about “The Nap Dress”, a line of dresses from Hill House Home. The dresses appear to be several styles of billowy prairie dresses propped up by the modern direct-to-consumer parlance that aims to establish an item as the only item of its kind. Their defining supremacy in the marketplace of other similar dresses aside, the nap-ability of these dresses seems to be more a matter of suggestion than function.
Even still, people I know and respect are pretty into buying and ostensibly sleeping in nap dresses. And good for them! I’m as keen on trying to fill my ever-expanding inner void with consumer goods as the next person. That said, the appeal of the Nap Dress eludes me, and not just because the style of dress they are has always been a little too cloying for me. As much as I would relish, as Syme puts it, “a childlike return to waking up bleary-eyed hours before dinner,” do I need to dress like an actual child in order to get that?
Most of my complaints are not aesthetic so much as functional. Not to be strident in the presence of adult children’s clothing, but please show me someone who regularly changes outfits before a nap. That smacks of a kind of carefree joy that doesn’t scream “daytime sleeper” to me. We all crave literally anything to break up the crushing monotony of our lives in quarantine, and I don’t mean to be all “I have a job and a kid and barely have time to collapse into 20-minutes to blurry, vibed out half-consciousness in my bed between meetings while listening for Slack chimes, let alone time to enrobe myself in a fresh, resplendent look for the occasion” but…that is indeed the case. I might have the same energy as the type of gaunt, melancholy-stricken Victorian wife who’s hidden from guests and floats around the manor grounds wearing what I imagine is the Nap Dress, but I lack her ample free time.
Still, I can see the appeal. There are people who enjoy having a dedicated outfit for every discrete moment of their lives, and there are people (hello) who toil under an anxious fixation on their sleep or lack thereof. It’s rare enough for me to sleep more than four or five hours in one solid chunk that I’m earnestly surprised when I do. After especially rough nights, I routinely plan my entire day around a nap. Sleep occupies a considerably above average amount of psychic real estate for me. I’ve experimented endlessly with things that might help me sleep better, but the Nap Dress checks no boxes in this regard.
The sensory experience of being in the Nap Dress, which is devoid of meaningful support and structure, falls short of competitors like “old leggings” and “naked under a weighted blanket.” It’s light and spacious — who wants to feel untethered when they’re trying to calm down into a nap? Give me a feeling of being held together. This is not all that unusual: Most people’s bodies respond favorably to feeling pleasantly squeezed. Deep pressure stimulation (DPS) is a category of therapies that use firm but gentle squeezing, hugs, or holding to relax the nervous system. DPS is used — either with touch or products like weighted vests and blankets — in treatment of a wide range of things, but it all operates on the same principle: The nervous system is soothed by pressure. It operates on the same principle as tightly swaddling a fussy baby who’s in desperate need of a nap. It makes them feel calm on a core, neurological level. It chills them out and primes their bodies for sleep. That’s what I want to sleep in: something that tricks my nervous system into thinking it’s safely back in the womb.
While I don’t demand a full-body swaddling anymore, I do prefer to sleep in clothes that low-key carry the swaddling torch. The top part of Hill House’s Nap Dress has a flirty straight jacket vibe, which is spiritually heading in the right direction, but the bottom part is basically a napkin. Do not insult me by calling something nap attire when it has no ability to engage my parasympathetic nervous system! We’re exclusively taking stress naps in 2021 — anything called a “nap dress” needs to be equipped for the job, ideally meaning it’s filled with lead.
Of course, Hill House didn’t set out to create a medical device for improving sleep, so it’s not a fair standard to hold them to, and I’m not, but it does feel slightly ridiculous to see people snatching up a dress to sleep in despite it not being a particularly stylish dress (they’re fine!) nor uniquely good for sleep in any way. Anxiety can be a reason for needing a nap, not just boredom or malaise or a desire to be Kiera Knightly; The Stress Nap. If someone is buying a $100 cotton scrunchie to don for a midday snooze, I feel that chances are high that they are not, like, doing great. There are naps as a leisure activity and then there are naps that are more like necessary intervals of unconsciousness because of burnout, or perhaps desperately flinging oneself into slumber to escape everything on the surface. Not to get serious in whimsy’s house, but the preciousness of the Nap Dress paired with our recent collective decline in baseline mental health just bums me out.
Also, these dresses are just…nightgowns? My arguments against the Nap Dress are mostly predicated on my disinterest in feeling adrift in sleep attire when I would rather feel snuggly contained, but I have no judgment for people who wear and love nightgowns. Some of my best grandmothers wore nightgowns. I find their associations comforting, even if the experience of getting twisted up in their superfluous yards of fabric all night is not. But if that’s your bag, then my one hope is that you don’t dismiss all the other nightgowns of the world just because one of them happens to be called “The Nap Dress”. Play the field!
Next issue: The Nap Dress is incompatible with both hot and cold temperatures. They’re clearly meant for warm weather wear, but on a steamy summer afternoon of succumbing to the vapors or whatever, who wants to be trapped in a roasting bag, with your limbs left to their own swampy devices? I guess you could shove the fabric between your thighs, but then the dress part of the Nap Dress becomes a liability you have to work against — a bug, not a feature. Especially considering, again, the structural inefficiencies of the Nap Dress mean I would probably still need a weighted blanket if I wanted my randomly firing panic responses to subside enough for me to get in a nap at all.
This is where the Nap Dress loses me. I’m looking for more performance from nap clothing, which is an absurd thing to say, but arguably no more absurd than sliding on a whole-ass bodice before passing out on the couch surrounded by errant half-empty cans of seltzer. Times are distressing, and good sleep is scarce. Maybe that’s not true for everyone, but then, I assume those people don’t need a dedicated sleep outfit. It seems like those lucky people could sleep in anything, which is ultimately the point: any of us could sleep in anything. The little things we do to enliven the banality and temper the despair of our days are usually non-essential indulgences, chosen according to what delights us personally. When it comes to infusing your day with something special and useless, go with god, but also, I hate to see us all buy something that’s unremarkable compared to its countless peers just because of targeted Instagram ads and of-the-moment marketing. I don’t expect anything I wear to fully sedate me, but it should at least carry its weight. I don’t need a cottagecore hanky.
All that said, things are very bad, and we should give ourselves over to any dumb thing that dampens our malaise. No one is forcing me to buy one. If your exhaustion is abetted by drifting off after lunch in a wispy smock, then frankly, I envy your journey. Sleep tight.
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