The Power of a Good Nap

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We all know bodies need sleep, but with few hours in a day, perhaps a restful night’s slumber becomes the first thing you cut out. But soon enough, this wears you down and affects your ability to work out at an optimal level.

If this describes you, you are not alone. A lack of sleep remains a widespread issue. “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers inadequate sleep a public health problem,” says Jamie Gruman, PhD, author of “Boost: The Science of  Recharging Yourself in an Age of Unrelenting Demands.” In 2011, the CDC even started calling inadequate sleep an epidemic, as 1/3 of U.S. adults report they get less sleep than they should.

So what can you do? Enter: naps. By taking a little time during your day to sleep, you can wake up refreshed and be more productive. Even if you think midday rest is a waste of time, you might be surprised at its benefits.

The following describe napping best practices and why you should consider one:

1

PROPER LENGTH

“Naps should be either 20–30 minutes or 90 minutes,” says Martin Rawls-Meehan, sleep expert and CEO at Reverie, an organization that produces sleep systems. He says if you end up sleeping somewhere between 30–90 minutes, you are likely to feel tired and sluggish when you wake up and for perhaps the rest of the day.

Quick naps that last less than a half an hour allow the body to “reach the restorative Stage 2 sleep, but short enough that we don’t enter the deeper Stages 3 and 4 sleep, which can cause us to feel groggy when we wake up and can produce performance decrements in tasks requiring vigilance,” says Dr. Gruman. Longer 90-minute naps allow you to go through an entire sleep cycle; so, you can wake up without the nap “hangover.”  (After extreme workouts, Rawls-Meehan recommends longer naps for recovery.)

2

ENVIRONMENT

Rawls-Meehan recommends dark and cool environments. The National Sleep Foundation says the bedroom temperature should range between 60–67ºF.  

3

INSTRUMENTS

Rawls-Meehan suggests using sleep accessories like eye masks to block out artificial and natural daylight, as well as an item that creates white noise. For example, turning on a simple bedroom fan or using a white noise app, such as those that offer rainforest, raindrop or windmill sounds, can create the proper napping ambiance.

4

NIGHTTIME CONSIDERATIONS

You should remain cognizant of what a nap will do to your nighttime slumber. “If you nap regularly in your training, you may need a little more help getting to bed at a reasonable time in the evening,” says Dr. David Brodner,  who is board certified in otolaryngology and sleep medicine. For his athlete patients, he recommends a high-quality melatonin with at least seven hours of coverage 30–90 minutes before heading to bed. “Melatonin is the body’s own sleep ingredient and is drug free. There’s no residual hangover like we see in sleep drugs.”

1

RECOVERY TIME

Have a heavy training session? Nap. “Naps can be a critically important part of the recovery process, leading to enhanced performance and improved coordination and reflexes,” says Dr. Brodner.

In addition, “after a nap, our cardiovascular systems recover faster when we are exposed to stress,” says Dr. Gruman.

2

COGNITIVE SKILLS

Is your constant training affecting your abilities at work? Nap. In a study published in Nature Neuroscience in 2003, researchers found people performed just as well on a visual texture task after a nap than they did after a full night’s sleep.

3

LEARNING SKILLS

Drinking coffee and sodas all day and thereby ruining your nutrition intake? Nap. A study in Behavioural Brain Research found an afternoon nap equated to a dose of caffeine when improving perpetual learning. In the experiment, people who napped got better scores on a word-recall task after waking up than people who took caffeine or a placebo.

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