Only recently have we learnt about how much sleep can affect our ability to get results when training. For a long time it was considered irrelevant but now we know it can be as important as doing the right exercises or eating the right food.
I’m not sure quite why it is but having a nap when you are older seems to feel far more fun now, than when you were a toddler. You certainly won’t find me kicking and screaming at the thought of an extra half an hour! What you do get with napping as an adult is that guilty feeling when you wake up though. You feel like you might have wasted valuable time or that you are just being lazy! So is the nap a first world vice or a valuable fitness tool?
The truth is that for mammals it is quite uncommon to divide the day up into a period of sleep and a period of being awake. In fact around 85% of mammals will just sleep for short periods throughout the day, rather than dividing it into two separate sections like humans do. Maybe the human sleep pattern has just been developed over time.
So napping is the natural thing to do? Well we don’t know that. Humans might have been napping throughout our existence or it might be a fairly new phenomenon. What we can say without any uncertainty is that sleeping when you get tired is definitely natural.
A nap doesn’t have to be falling asleep when you are curled up on the sofa in front of the TV. Planned 20-30 minute naps are used as a tactic for a lot of people. Some people believe that a tactical nap like this at some point in the day can help increase your alertness and improve both concentration and mood levels. The thing to remember with this is that it is 20-30 minutes. Sleeping on the sofa for 3-4 hours doesn’t really count as a nap, it is just a sleep.
Obviously most of us are working throughout the day anyway so finding the time for a nap can be a real challenge. But this isn’t like fitting in your 5-a-day, you can go throughout life without naps and achieve everything that you want in the gym.
There are criticisms of napping too. The main one being how it affects your nightly sleep. Whether you choose to nap or not, overnight sleep is what you need to be getting right. Where possible you should be looking to get at least 8 hours of sleep and try to get down before midnight. If you are a napper who only sleeps 5 hours a night and doesn’t get off until 2 a.m. then you are doing it wrong.
Sleep inertia is another criticism. This is that groggy feeling that you sometimes feel after a nap, caused by waking from a deep sleep. If you are setting an alarm for 30 minutes time then you run the risk of waking yourself at the deepest point of sleep, leaving you inert for hours after you wake.
There are thousands of sleep studies that take place each and every day. One that will say naps are a vital tool and another will call them a sign of laziness. So what is the truth? Well if they are doing more studies every single day, it is probably because we don’t know yet.
Certain napping styles have been shown to reduce overall fatigue and improve learning and memory, particularly just after you wake up. Ultimately, it comes down to you as a person. If you don’t have the time to grab a nap in the day then don’t worry, it isn’t the magic ingredient. On the other hand, if you enjoy grabbing a 30 minute nap and it doesn’t affect how you sleep at night then it is nothing to be ashamed of.
20-30 minutes here or there isn’t going to do you any harm at all. What you don’t want to be doing is napping for hours in the day. Other than that it is just about ensuring your sleep environment is as good as possible. Try to keep it a normal temperature and avoid any noise! Happy Sleeping…