Can napping make you a better runner?

Always feel a bit sleepy after lunch? A well timed afternoon nap might just transform your mind, your body and your running progress...

Can napping make you a better runner?

Unless you're lucky enough to live in Costa Rica where siesta time is par for the course, sloping off to the bogs for a secret afternoon nap might get you into trouble with your boss. However, there's ample evidence that a well-timed snooze could hold the secret to running (and general life) success.

Instant energy boost

If you're short on time, even speedy power naps are an effective way to breathe some energy into your day. A 20-minute power nap is enough shut eye to leave you feeling rejuvenated and ready to face the afternoon.

Aim to nap between 1pm and 3pm, as this slots into the natural low in the circadian rhythm that your body follows, and won't disrupt your sleeping pattern at night. These short stints hit the lightest stage of your sleep cycle but allow you to function fully afterwards and embrace the afternoon head on.

Recover and repair

Your body effectively repairs itself while you sleep, especially during longer periods of restorative snoozing. Recovery time is fundamental for runners, as this is what enables us to become stronger and better.

The human growth hormone (HGH) is produced during longer sleeps, and is essential for cell repair and recovery, even more so if you exercise, as explained by Psychology Today. The next time you head out for a long run and feel the urge to take a nap afterwards, hop into bed. Embrace precious nap time safe in the knowledge that your body needs this rest to benefit your running performance. 

Stay alert

Even if you get plenty of sleep and follow a healthy diet, if you stick to a regular exercise routine you may still feel tired and lethargic, especially if you have a desk based job. Believe it or not, if you usually reach for the coffee to keep you alert, a short nap could give you a similar boost.

In studies on the Nature of Neuroscience, psychologist Sara Mednick found that an afternoon nap can be equal to your usual dose of caffeine for improved learning and remaining vigilant. Sleep.org also maintain that a short nap will aid your attention span, 'A 20-minute snooze—called a stage two nap is ideal to enhance motor skills'. 

Improve your memory 

Power naps are great for instant energy, yet longer sleeps can help to improve other elements in your brain. In a recent study Mednick's examined the brain benefits of setting time aside for a longer nap and found that a 60-90 minute sleep can actually improve some forms of memory consolidation, whereby short-term memory is converted into long-term memory, as well as improving attention span and alertness. 

In a deeper sleep where your body enters a state of REM you can even get the same perks as a nighttime stint Mednick argues, 'If you have time to fit a 90-minute nap into your day, you can get the same (learning) benefits as an eight-hour sleep period.' 

So, if you're looking to feel more alert in your day-to-day life or feel more invigorated when you hit the road, a nap should be an essential part of your routine. If your boss objects to the idea of you sneaking off for a siesta, send this article to them!

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