Are you an endurance runner who routinely gets less than seven hours’ sleep? If so, your running performance may benefit significantly from an afternoon nap, a new study shows.

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We can all relate: how often do we actually get the recommended minimum of seven hours’ sleep? This study, by researchers from Bangor University in the U.K. and published in the European Journal of Sport Science, was the first to show a benefit to endurance (aerobic) performance from napping. (Napping has previously been shown to benefit anaerobic performance in runners.)

Who can benefit?

The study tested 11 trained runners of comparable past performance working out twice a day. Those who typically slept less than seven hours per night felt more fatigued before their evening workout than those who slept longer. And those who slept least at night showed the best results during their evening workout after their nap, as shown by how long they could run during their evening workout. Those who improved the most also lowered their rate of perceived exertion (RPE). That is, they felt like they had to work less hard to achieve the same result.

Granted, the sample size (11 runners) was small. And it’s important to note that not all the athletes’ performance improved when they napped. But those whose performance did improve were those who typically slept the least at night.

Even a short nap is better than none

Even a short nap can provide benefits, if you’re chronically short on sleep. The runners in this study all slept for 10 to 30 minutes during their nap, approximately 90 minutes before their evening workout. 

The study concluded that since many runners’ schedules prevent them from getting more sleep at night, napping in the afternoon may be a useful strategy for mitigating the performance effects of insufficient sleep.

 

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