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Podcast No. 57: Naps--Your Greatest Recovery Amplifier

January 21, 2020

Continuing our January theme of #RESTolutions, today’s podcast takes a deep dive into naps. Kristen Holmes and Emily Capodilupo are back to explore what they call your “greatest recovery amplifier.”

By Will Ahmed

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Kristen and Emily discuss recent research on the physical and mental benefits of naps, how athletes should best incorporate them into their daily schedules, as well as how long you should nap for depending on what your goals are. From there, they break down the concept of sleep debt and how naps can help offset it, plus how to incorporate your activities and day strain into planning the timing and duration of your naps.

Even if you’re someone who never has time to nap, there’s still some great insight here on how your body’s need for sleep affects everything that you do.

Naps Reduce Sleep Need and Improve Recovery

1:33 – Naps Boost Recovery. “Sleep experts out there would agree with the statement that consolidated sleep is ideal, but there are so many occasions in our life when getting all the sleep we need might not be possible, or we simply need a little energy boost. Enter the greatest recovery amplifier–naps.”

2:15 – Activity Determines Need. “The way that we stress our bodies will determine how we need to recover.”

4:11 – Napping & Rest Days. Kristen references Dr. Amy Bender, “She always recommends a 2-hour nap to support recovery on rest days.” Emily adds “You can use that opportunity of your workout time for extra sleep.”

4:58 – Sleep Debt. “The way sleep debt works is that it follows you around for a few days. If you’re reaching this rest day and you’re not 100% sleep replete (caught up on sleep), taking that opportunity to not just merely not work out but to really take that time that would otherwise be allocated to working out and put that towards sleep so that you leave your rest day completely caught up on sleep, you’re now that much more ready to perform on your next ‘on’ day.”

5:42 – Using WHOOP to Track Unexpected Strain. “It builds in real time, so there’s a great opportunity to keep track of your strain as the day goes on.”

6:42 – Target Strain Goal on Rest Days. “What we’ve found is that our athletes who really keep their strain low, and we’re talking under 6.0, on a rest day their recovery rebounds so much more and then they’re able to perform at a much higher level and create that larger training stimulus when they’re back to training days.”

7:03 – Importance of Recovery Before Workouts. “The more recovered you are going into a workout the more fitness gain that same workout is going to give you. The amount of fitness gain you get from a workout is only partially related to the intensity of the workout. It’s also very highly related to your body’s ability to action that training stimulus. If you’re going to do all the work, you want to maximize the gain, so you might as well take that opportunity on your recovery day to really set yourself up.”

7:32 – Workouts Can Impact Sleep, and napping prior may help offset that. “I do notice my sleep is a little more fragmented coming off of hard workouts,” Kristen says.

8:15 – Naps’ Effect on Cognitive Functioning. “The benefits of brief 5-15 minute naps are almost immediately after the nap and last a limited period, 1-3 hours. Longer naps on the other hand, 30 minutes plus, can produce impairment from sleep inertia (grogginess) for a short period after waking, but then produce improved cognitive performance for a longer period, up to many hours.”

8:56 – Anatomy of a Nap. Emily mentions our recent podcast How Sleep Impacts Performance in which they discuss the timing of sleep stages.

9:23 – Value of 3 Minutes of Slow-Wave Sleep (deep sleep). “If you don’t get 3 minutes of slow wave sleep there’s actually no cognitive benefit to the nap,” Emily says, and references a 2005 study by Tadao Hori. “If you only have enough time to sleep for a couple of minutes it actually might not be that effective to use that time for a nap,” Kristen points out. She suggests you might be better off incorporating mindfulness or meditation instead.

10:44 – REM Sleep During Naps. “Typically you’re not going to get into REM sleep unless your nap is at least 90 minutes.”

12:50 – Napping for Too Long? Avoid more than 2-3 hours. “You’re going to pay for it later when you go to sleep. When you try to go to bed at night you’re not tired enough and your circadian rhythm is disturbed.” You won’t wake up any better off the next morning.

14:28 – Naps for Athletes. “I think there’s a lot of utility for high-level athletes who are working out twice a day. If you can hit slow wave sleep between those two workouts, you’re going to produce human growth hormone and you’re going to start the recovery process from that first workout before the second workout … Then you’re going into the second workout more recovered than you otherwise would.”

15:10 – The Napachino, also known as a coffee nap or caffeine nap. “This fun little trick where you shoot an espresso shot or some kind of strong, caffeinated thing and then immediately go to sleep [for 20 minutes, roughly the length of time it takes for the caffeine to take effect]. If you take a nap during that time then the caffeine will naturally wake you up … which means you’re not going to have that grogginess feeling. So you get your nap in and you have this supported wake-up process that makes it easier to transition out of the nap.” They can be difficult to make the timing work though, you have to be able to fall asleep very quickly.

17:40 – Timing your Nap. “You really want to think about [napping] at least 6-8 hours before bedtime so that you don’t interfere with your sleep pressure (when your body wants to fall asleep). … If you reduce sleep need too much during the day and you don’t have pressure towards sleep at bedtime it’s going to be hard to fall asleep even if your circadian rhythm is saying that it’s sleep time. You also don’t want to nap too early in the day because you can shift your circadian rhythm by doing that. Your body almost treats it like you’re delaying the sleep from the night before.” So when is the optimal time? “If you nap during the midpoint between previous wake and sleep that night the circadian shift effect is much smaller,” Emily says. “So basically 6-7 hours after you wake,” Kristen adds.

21:04 – Naps Aren’t Always Good. “Naps are this funny thing. Obviously being sleep deprived is bad for us for so many reasons. Being not sleep deprived is better than being sleep deprived, period, end of sentence. But there are better ways to be not sleep deprived [than napping] . … What you really don’t want to do is have your nap harm your nighttime sleep such that it basically cancels it out.”

22:25 – Napping is a Skill. “Sleeping is a skill … napping is also a skill, you need to work to be good at it.”

23:14 – Using WHOOP to Combat Sleep Debt. “Managing sleep debt can be a really proactive way for every single human being to keep illness and injury burden in check … you don’t want your sleep debt to accumulate over 30 minutes. That’s the standard across the collegiate and professional athletes that we work with.”

24:48 – Avoiding Binge Sleeping. “When we’re sleep deprived, which means when we have any amount of sleep debt, our body goes into some amount of low-power mode. If you aren’t constantly paying off that debt, that means you’re constantly running in low-power mode. If you let the sleep debt accumulate so much and then binge sleep you will in fact end up at the end of that sleep replete, but you had a whole week or month or whatever where you were running in low-power mode. … You might stop doing more damage, but the damage is done. You can almost think about it like your credit score (you may have paid off your debt, but your credit score is still bad).”

27:09 – Achieving Daily Sleep Need is Critical for Workouts. “Hit that break-even point of exactly your sleep need every single day so you don’t spend any time in low-power mode. The things that are going to go really quickly are things like ‘Hey, you had this exercise stimulus, I’m going to build your muscles up even stronger.’ That’s going to be one of the first things that goes. Building muscles stronger is going to feel non-essential [to your body].”

28:11 – Nap Environment. “Cold, dark, create a scenario where you can really maximize the time frame that you have to take a nap.”

28:44 – Planning Your Nap & Avoiding Caffeine. “When you wake up in the morning if you know ‘I definitely need to build in a nap today,’ probably don’t have caffeine. We have some internal research that we’ve done, we’ve seen when you layer stimulants on an unrecovered system, that’s not good if you’re trying to recover tomorrow … so lay off the caffeine and when you feel that natural pressure where you start to feel sleepy, have a nap.”

29:28 – Use Your Nighttime Routine to Nap. “If you have the opportunity, bring in elements of your normal nighttime routine. Even putting on pajamas for 20 minutes, taking your work clothes off, getting really comfy, getting into bed.”

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Will Ahmed

Will Ahmed is the Founder and CEO of WHOOP, which has developed next generation wearable technology for optimizing human performance and health. WHOOP members include professional athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs, fitness enthusiasts, military personnel, frontline workers and a broad range of people looking to improve their performance. WHOOP has raised more than $400 million from top investors and is valued at $3.6 billion, making it the most valuable standalone wearables company in the world. Ahmed has recruited an active advisory board that consists of some of the world’s most notable cardiologists, technologists, marketers, and designers. Ahmed was recently named to the 2021 Sports Business Journal 40 under 40 list as well as 2020 Fortune 40 Under 40 Healthcare list and previously named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. Ahmed founded WHOOP as a student at Harvard, where he captained the Men’s Varsity Squash Team and graduated with an A.B. in government.