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Whether you’re one of those people who feels super energized after a great workout, or more the type who feels like they could just barely crawl into bed, you’ve likely encountered the idea that a post-workout nap is a good way to speed recovery or weight loss.
Exercise is important to a healthy lifestyle, and so is good sleep. It’s only natural that someone would eventually put the two together and assume that good exercise, paired with good sleep, is better for both.
So, is napping after a workout good for you? The answer is: it depends.
Ultimately, the choice to nap comes down to you, your body, and the type of exercise you’re enjoying. Below we get into the pros and cons of post-workout naps, so you can decide what’s best for you.
While we sleep, our body works to repair and restore our muscles, bones, and tissue from the strain we put on them during the day. If you worked out especially hard and feel pain, it can be good to start that recovery process sooner vs. later, especially if you are too tired to do anything else.
Sleep is also a time our brain uses to process new learnings and memories from the day, including our muscle memory. Sleep-deprived athletes have slower reaction times, slower sprints, and poorer performance overall. If you just learned a new play for a team sport, worked on a new tennis grip, or rehearsed a new dance routine, napping afterwards may help your brain “cement” the memory.
Although, it’s important to note that both of these processes take place during a full night of sleep, particularly during the deep and REM stages of sleep, respectively. If you’re planning on napping after your workout, your sleep will be too short to reach either of these stages.
However, if you are absolutely exhausted after working out, and don’t feel like you can do anything else, a short nap is a healthy option that might promote these processes (and it certainly won’t hurt).
Plus, if you are an endurance athlete or in extreme training, you’ll need more overall sleep time than the average person. Squeezing in a post-workout nap is one good option to boost that sleep time.
If you are feeling completely wiped, or are in pain after your workout, the better answer may be to take it easier, instead of taking a nap to recover. That will bode better for your endurance and prevent injury in the long run.
Many people feel extremely energized after a workout, especially runners and those who engaged in aerobic activity. That energy comes from an increase in your cortisol levels, the stress hormone. In turn, your nervous system turns on – which is the exact opposite of what happens when you go to sleep. Higher stress levels make it more challenging to sleep restfully. This is why many sleep experts do not recommend intense exercise right before bed.
If you’re in the throes of runners’ high, you’ll probably feel too awake to nap. In that case, you may as well spend your time doing another recovery activity, such as stretching, or going on with your day. Don’t force yourself to nap if you’re not tired. It will only cause undue frustration.
The jury is still out on whether it is good or bad for your metabolism to sleep right after a workout.
Higher muscle mass boosts your metabolism, and your body burns fat while you sleep. If you just lifted weights, sleeping afterwards may enable your body to get a jump on that fat-burning process. However, there’s also an argument that if you stay up and keep moving around, you’re likely to burn calories just as well, or perhaps more quickly.
What researchers do know, however, is that good sleep is good for your metabolism. Sleep too much, or too little, and you may experience weight gain as a result.
In other words, if your goal is to maintain a healthy body weight, it’s more important to sleep well on a regular basis, instead of relying on post-workout naps.
As we said at the beginning, it depends on you and your body.
If a short nap will refresh you and give you the energy you need to keep going on your day, go for it. If you prefer to keep moving, go for it.
Napping after a workout is not the special elixir missing from your workout, nor is it universally helpful, or unhelpful. If you’d like to see if a nap makes you feel better, try it out for yourself. If you sense an improvement in your energy, or your performance in the next training session, keep it up.
If you do decide to nap, though, limit yourself to 20 minutes, 30 at the most. Sleep longer than that and you will fall into deep sleep. While deep sleep is the stage responsible for your muscle repair, it’s also extremely difficult to wake from, and can interfere with your energy for the rest of the day, as well as your ability to fall asleep later that evening.
The recommended advice from sleep researchers is to get quality sleep on a nightly basis. For adults, that means 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep, and even longer for extreme athletes. Napping should be limited to a single daytime nap of 20-30 minutes, ideally in the early afternoon.
As for your workouts, the research suggests that for most people, scheduling exercise for earlier in the day is better for your sleep later at night. During a workout, your body heats up, boosting your energy during the time you need it most – during the day. By exercising in the morning or early afternoon hours, especially if you’re outside in the sun, you reinforce your body’s natural circadian rhythms.
At night, by the time the energizing effects of exercise wear off, your core body temperature has decreased a bit, and your muscles are more tired. Both of these processes individually help induce sleep.
There’s always an exception to the rule, though. One small study found that for people without insomnia, intense exercise late at night didn’t interrupt their sleep quality.
So, like we said, choosing whether to nap right after your workout is up to you!