Here’s a smart thing to do this afternoon: take a nap. Studies suggest taking a midday snooze offers both young and old people some brain-boosting benefits. One study of elderly Chinese folks published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that people who napped for 30 to 90 minutes after lunch had better memories than those who didn’t nap or napped longer than 90 minutes. Those who napped were also better at drawing figures—a sign of good brain health. But napping may provide more useful benefits for your body and physical performance, too. Well-timed naps appear to be one of the best things you can do to improve your ability to push yourself harder and exercise longer, especially if you work out or compete in sports in the afternoon or evening.
That afternoon sleepiness we all suffer from, known as the “post-lunch dip,” is due to your circadian rhythm and the slight reduction in core body temperature that occurs between 1 and 3 pm, which promotes the desire to sleep. If you exercise or compete in the afternoon, you may find yourself feeling lethargic and not at the of your game. That’s where strategic shuteye can help, according to new research.
How the nap-performance connection was found
A small study in Frontiers in Physiology by researchers in Tunisia, Germany, and Texas recently looked to determine the optimum length of napping for the best speed and least perceived exertion fatigue in a high-intensity shuttle run test. A shuttle run is a test of speed, agility, and endurance, involving continuous running back and forth between line markers set at various distances.
Study participants were physically active young men who reported no sleep deprivation. They were asked to perform shuttle runs on four different days, preceded by after-lunch naps of 25, 35, and 45 minutes, plus one no-nap control. The exercise tests consisted of six repetitions of 30-second “as-fast-as-you-can” shuttle sprints over 5, 10, 15, and 20 meters alternatively. The tests were spaced 72-hours apart.
Comparing test results of nap times against the no-nap control, the researchers determined that exercisers can benefit from an after-lunch nap, and a 45-minute snooze session was the most beneficial. Participants completed the test 9% faster after taking a 45-minute nap compared to no nap, and 6% faster than their time after the 35-minute nap. In rating perceived exertion level, the 45-minute nappers reported 19% lower fatigue scores than they did following the shuttle run that wasn’t preceded by a nap. The rate of perceived exertion of the workout was 20% lower after the 45-minute nap compared to the 25-minute nap.
The most beneficial nap time to boost your physical ability
The researchers believe that better physical performance after taking a 45-minute nap could be explained by the greater amount of time the exercisers spent in slow-wave sleep, the most restorative stage of sleep. From a practical perspective, the researchers say, taking a cat nap in the late afternoon before practice or competition, even if you got restful sleep the night before, will likely give you a boost of energy that can lead to better results no matter your goal.
But what if you’re sleep-deprived? Exercisers and athletes who experience a chronic lack of sleep can optimize their physical and cognitive performance by napping longer, science says. According to a new study in the October 2021 issue of Sports Medicine that reviewed 15 studies on napping and athletic performance, 90 minutes was found to be the optimal duration of afternoon naps for counteracting the negative effects of a poor night’s sleep and fatigue on physical and cognitive performance.
That said, try to avoid napping much longer than 90 minutes. Other studies suggest that snoozing for longer than 2 hours during the day won’t enhance performance… and you might even mistakenly sleep through your workout.
For more, check out The #1 Best Place to Exercise, New Study Says.