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The benefits of napping for runners

Naptime: the benefits of naps for runners

If you’ve never experienced the beauty of taking regular naps (or if you hated nap-time as child), it might be worth your while to (re)consider making napping a regular part of your day or week, especially before a workout.

If you’re feeling tired, going for a run can help boost your alertness, but you’ll probably be even more exhausted after the buzz wears off. Having a nap before you go for your run can be a great idea – if you run in the afternoon. This will help match your nap time to your second peak of sleepiness which happens about 12 hours after the middle of your sleep cycle (aka, for most humans, mid-afternoon).

But other than making you less tired for your afternoon run, a nap before your run can actually improve your performance –and your day. Professional athletes, most famously NBA players, regularly take afternoon naps to prepare for games. Of course, you don’t need to be elite to experience these positive effects:

  • A better and safer workout. Naps improve alertness and reaction time. A study by NASA of military pilots and astronauts found a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34 percent and alertness 100 percent.
  • Naps elevate your mood, which will make you more motivated to run, and possibly push yourself harder than you would if you were tired. A 2007 study showed that a 30-minute lunchtime nap increased sprint performance in athletes that were partially sleep deprived (4 hours of sleep).
  • Muscle memory. Napping can improve motor memory consolidation, which is great if you’re in training mode.
  • Napping can boost the immune system and reduce inflammation and soreness, for faster recovery time.

How to nap (because not everyone is a natural)

  1. Nap for 20 to 30 minutes between 2 and 4 in the afternoon. According to National Sleep Foundation, around 20 minutes of sleep is the perfect amount to prevent “sleep inertia” – that horrible groggy feeling you get after waking up from a nap, lethargic and disorientated. This happens because after 30 minutes, you start to enter deeper sleep and it will take you much longer to wake up – not so great for boosting energy and alertness. Setting your alarm for 30 minutes at the longest ensures you’ll feel good very quickly after waking up. If you want to sleep longer, sleep for 90 minutes so you can fit in a whole sleep cycle.
  2. Try an app. It’s perfectly normal to have trouble turning off your brain while trying to nap – lots of people struggle with this at first. There are lots of great relaxation techniques out there, but there are also dedicated tools designed especially to help you have a great nap. My favorite one is an app called Pzizz, which is part guided meditation, part hypnotherapy, paired with a relaxing soundscape and a binaural beat designed to help you relax and drift off.
  3. Don’t worry about sleeping. This one tripped me up for a long time. It turns out, you don’t have to actually fall asleep to experience the benefits of napping. Just lying down in a quiet room and closing your eyes for 10-20 minutes can have a lot of the same restorative effects as if you were asleep! Knowing this makes napping a lot more enjoyable.

Re-discovering “nap time” can be one of the greatest joys of adult life. Let us know if you’ve tried it and if it’s worked for you in the comments.

Written by Varia Makagonova.