Daytime Naps Can Improve Performance | Sleep Benefits

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Daytime Naps Can Improve Performance | Sleep Benefits

Athletes, trainers, sports scientists and members of the workout community all agree that efforts to improve performance rarely succeed when they’re based on workouts alone. No matter how perfect our technique may be or how dedicated we are during our hours at the gym and on the field, the best way to improve performance is to take a broad look at our entire lifestyle. No element of the body exists in a vacuum or functions on its own, and strong muscles mean nothing without the support of overall physical and mental health.

With this in mind, sports scientists encourage every athlete to pay consistent attention to nutrition, stress management, hydration, and sleep. Sleep habits, just like any of these other lifestyle elements, can make or break the success of any athlete in any sport. Doctors and scientists are still struggling to determine the exact nature of sleep—what it really is and why we need it. But even though this research hasn’t yielded any final answers, the benefits of sleep and the dangers of sleep deprivation are clear.

After even one night of missed sleep, our cognitive processes slow, our judgment becomes impaired, and we experience negative neurological effects, including delayed reflexes. This can increase our chances of accident and injury, and as it happens, a lack of sleep also makes us heal more slowly and renders us more vulnerable to disease and infection. Some research even suggests that we process nutrients less efficiently when we don’t sleep, so poor sleep can exacerbate the effects of unhealthy eating. When we don’t get enough sleep, we have fewer defenses against depression and other mental health concerns, and we make poor decisions that can shift a negative situation from bad to worse. Eventually, after a prolonged lack of sleep, we can die.

Death By Sleep Deprivation?

Most of us, thankfully, are not likely to succumb to death via sleep loss. Severe insomnia can usually be treated with a variety of medications and interventions, and cases of genetic untreatable insomnia that’s actually life threatening are very rare. But short of death, sleep deprivation can slowly and imperceptibly wear away at our sports performance, our general health, and our quality of life. 

So if you’re an athlete looking for ways to improve performance on the field (or at work, or in the classroom), a focus on sleep provides a great place to start. Here are a few tips.

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The Benefits of Healthy Sleep: Don’t Resist the Lure of Daily Naps

Naps may seem unprofessional and unstructured, like a relic leftover from childhood, but those who hold onto this aversion risk missing out on the benefits of one of the healthiest habits we can ever decide to adopt. Naps provide a great way to recharge and refresh the neurological impulses that become undermined by sleep loss, and if we list the refreshing advantages of a daily nap, the list looks almost like the exact opposite of the list of sleep deprivation symptoms above.

After a nap, cognitive function improves, and some studies show that athletes and test subjects who have been taught a new task actually retain the task better if the lesson is followed by a ten minute nap. Again, we don’t know exactly why, but sleeping during the day appears to improve performance across a wide range of physical and mental tasks. Those who take regular short naps also experience better defenses against depression, some forms of mental illness, and even difficulties with attention and focus

At the heart of the matter, naps simply feel good. And a brief opportunity to sleep and recharge during the day does not have to be taken away from more than 10 to 20 minutes of work or other activity.

Better Sleep During the Nighttime Hours

For most of us, nighttime sleep habits can also benefit from some adjustments. On average, we should all be getting approximately 6.5 hours of sleep at a minimum per night. It’s true that some of us are genetically inclined to require more sleep (a group that sleep researchers refer to as “long sleepers”), and some of us require less (short sleepers.) But even the shortest short sleepers can’t stay healthy on fewer than five hours per night, and those who occupy this group are very rare. Most of us experience optimal physical and mental health on 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night.

To protect your nighttime sleep, the first rule is very simple: go to bed on time. When the day ends, head for your bed and let the sleep begin. Don’t wait for the weariness of your body to tell you that it’s time to sleep. Turn off the TV at least an hour before your targeted bedtime and begin the process of winding down. Don’t place a TV in your bedroom and protect your sleeping space from clutter and noise. Most experts suggest that you actually stay out of your bedroom during the day (unless you’re napping), and use your bed only for sexual activity and sleep, not eating, reading, talking on the phone, or working.

The Most Important Key to Healthy Sleep

The most important step toward healthy sleep-- and the most effective way to improve performance—comes from taking the need for sleep seriously. Our culture often encourages us to complain about our lack of sleep as if we’re bragging, or suggesting that our lives are so challenging that we can’t possibly make sleep a priority. But this is silly. For the sake of our performance, our health, and those who depend on us, we should make sure that our sleep begins and ends at reasonable hours.

You have a right to your sleep, just as you have a right to healthy food and clean air. So stand up for yourself, take care of your body, and get the sleep you need.