Naps for Performance?

by Dr. Cathlin Fitzgerald

Recovery continues to become a larger focus on the road to improved performance. So far, research has focused primarily on different systems including cardiovascular and muscular recovery, but a recent article from the European Journal of Sports Science looked at the effects of recovery more broadly; does an afternoon nap improve performance?

The study looked at 11 male runners, each of whom completed 2 trials; one with a nap and one without a nap. Each trial included a 30 minute morning treadmill run at 75% Vo2 max and an evening run consisting of 20 minutes at 60% Vo2max,  followed immediately by running to exhaustion at 90% Vo2max. The “nap trial” included a nap 90 minutes prior to the evening run.

Results showed that while all runners napped, only some improved their time to exhaustion in the evening run (as compared to the trial without the nap). Further analysis revealed that the runners who improved after the nap actually slept less during the night—about 1 hour less than the other runners.

So this study supports the idea that naps can help improve performance for those who get less sleep during the night, specifically less than 7 hours of sleep.

I would be interested to see further analysis on what the nap can do beyond directly improving performance on the same day. Do regular naps have long term benefits? Do naps improve resting heart rate (and decrease the risk of overtraining syndrome)? Is HRV improved? Do muscles recover more quickly?

There are many questions as to what exactly a nap can, or cannot, do for us, but this study provides good support to improve same day performance if you’re under 7 hours of sleep!

Blanchfield AW Lewis-Jones TM Wignall JR Roberts JB  Oliver SJ. “The influence of an afternoon nap on the endurance performance of trained runners”. Eur J Sport Sci. 2018; 18(9): 1177-1184.