Take a nap—it doesn’t mean you’re wimping out

Take a nap-it doesn’t mean you’re wimping out

Being busy is overrated. Society expects that we need to be busy, and always on the go. Well, some days you just need a nap, and it doesn’t mean that you are lazy or have a lack of ambition. It’s a very important aspect of many cultures, yet in the U.S., it’s a badge of honor. As a result, we are becoming more and more sleep deprived.

A short nap of 20-30 minutes can help improve your energy, alertness and performance. A study on NASA military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34 percent and alertness 100 percent. Think of a nap as a mini-vacation, not a guilty pleasure only for young children and the elderly. Elite athletes can benefit from them, as new studies show that naps contribute to better performance results.

There have been a substantial number of studies on the benefits of short naps outside the sports sphere, and in an athlete’s daily life, they can help recovery when he or she is faced with multiple training sessions in one day.

An athlete in an individual sport is more affected by poor sleep than are athletes in team sports, and studies have looked at how circadian rhythms affect performance. This new study recently published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise examined the effects of a post-lunch short nap, after a full night sleep, on the athlete’s alertness and fatigue, involving 13 male karate athletes. In experimental sessions, athletes were randomly assigned to experience both nap and no-nap conditions. The Karate-Specific Test, one of the protocols used, was composed of two attacks toward a body opponent bag. Every punch and kick had to be made with the maximum power possible. Reaction times, mental rotation tests and tests involving online visual stimulus, as well as jump squats, were measured.

Karate encompasses strength, power, speed and cognitive skills needed to offend and defend against opponents. These athletes need lightning-fast decision-making and fast-reaction skills, and lack of sleep can be a major problem if they are in a competition, where they have to compete in several matches on the same day.

The 30-minute nap came out as a winner in counteracting a bad night’s sleep, resulting in significant improvements in alertness, fatigue and better overall performances. There was also noticeable improvement in response time, which can give an elite athlete an edge in high-level sports. An added benefit is that for a professional athlete, a nap has no chance of violating doping regulations.

Get the most benefit of a nap by doing it right. Twenty minutes is ideal to enhance motor skills and attention, and the best time to do so is between 1 and 3 p.m. Ninety minutes of napping offers rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep, which helps make new connections in the brain and helps solve creative problems. If you take a nap too late in the day, it could affect your sleep. Also, if you are prone to sleep inertia, which is a feeling of grogginess and disorientation that can come with waking up from a deep sleep, it’s best to wait a few minutes to a half hour before doing something, well, like a karate match.


Restorative Napping

Restorative Yoga- we could all use a little nap

We could all use a little nap. It seems that many of us just keep going until too much stress upsets our normal balance.

According to the American Psychological Association, a third of us are living with extreme stress that can lead to high blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, heart disease and a host of other health problems. We worry, plan, over-schedule and maybe not pay enough attention to what’s going on inside ourselves. Maybe we are simply exhausted. Restorative yoga is a way to help you relax deeply for a few minutes a day. And no, it’s not an infomercial.

Here is where modern science and the ancient practice of yoga merge. B.K.S. Iyengar, author of the classic book “Light on Yoga,” first introduced props and blankets to his students who had difficulty holding specific yoga poses. He then discovered that he could help them recover from their illnesses and injuries with supported gentle yoga poses that not only stretched the spine in healthy ways but also enabled students to rest deeply in the poses.

Iyengar taught that to relax is to cut tension, and as you practice restorative poses you feel harmonious and balanced. This works by returning the nervous system to its natural state, a state in which the body has the ability to heal itself. The goal when doing the poses is to be aware and passive, not falling asleep. (The sleep state is different from the state of deep relaxation).

The Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center studied restorative yoga and looked at its positive impact on emotional wellness in ovarian cancer patients. Imaging studies show significant increases in left-sided brain activity when one relaxes or meditates, which is associated with healing positive emotional states.

In her book “Relax and Renew,” renowned yoga teacher Judith Lasater suggested thinking of restorative poses as taking a short holiday right in your home that it adds to one’s energy rather than subtracting from it. It’s particularly helpful when you feel tired or weak, during big life-changing events, or recovering from an illness.
Race To The Top

“Twenty minutes of restorative yoga is the equivalent to a one-hour nap,” Lasater wrote.

And that’s just the energy benefits. The healing benefits abound.

Here are two simple poses to try: one at home, and the other at the office. The first one is Legs–Up-the-Wall–Pose. It refreshes your legs, especially swollen jet-lagged legs, enhances the health of your circulatory system by the mild inversion and gently calms the nervous system. (Don’t do this pose if you’re pregnant or if you have sciatica.) From a seated position on the floor, swing your legs up onto a wall, so that your tailbone and butt are not lifting off the floor. Your back should be completely supported by floor. If your chin is lifted towards the ceiling put a small pillow under your head to support your neck. Your chin should be slightly lower than your forehead, not strained. Keep your legs straight and relaxed with your arms comfortably out to the sides, palms turned up. Relax and take several long, slow breaths. Feel like your back is completely supported by the floor and your chest is open and free. Stay here for five to 10 minutes, and take your time when you come out of the pose.

The second nap is Desk Forward Bend, nice for a break at the office, at your desk. Lasater likens it to school days when she would simply lean forward and rest her head on her desk. Place your chair near your desk so you can lean forward, feet flat on the floor, and then lean forward and place your folded arms on the desk. Let the desk support your arms, head and worries, and relax completely for three to five minutes. When you’re ready to come up, inhale, and use your arms to sit up. Sit for one more long breath before carrying on with your day, refreshed.

Connie Aronson is an American College of Sports Medicine-certified, ACE Gold Level status-certified, and an IDEA Elite Level-certified personal trainer. She works at High Altitude Fitness and the YMCA in Ketchum.

Originally published in the Idaho Mountain Express – Friday, February 15, 2008