Power naps for the win

Professional athletes’ relentless quest for a competitive advantage is once again pushing science towards new frontiers.

We have long known that getting a bad night’s sleep can throw us off for days to come. For athletes and laypeople alike, sleep deprivation leaves us feeling unfocused, impatient, and physically weak.

It took a while for someone to hypothesize: if lack of sleep is so detrimental, then extra sleep should be beneficial.

Cheri Mah, a Stanford sleep researcher, was the first one to seriously examine the benefits of optimal sleep or “sleep extension.” Her subjects happened to be athletes. The results were staggering, by sleeping slightly more than enough, athletes became faster and more accurate. Their reaction times improved as they became less prone to mid-game exhaustion.

Collegiate and professional basketball players are known for putting emphasis on sleep, often napping 2-3 hours during the afternoon of a game day. However, Mah says that this sort of luxurious napping can actually have detrimental effects, leaving the player feeling groggy. Mah suggests that a 20-30 minute power nap is much more beneficial, providing the restorative benefits to the mind and body without the grogginess that deep REM sleep induces.

For more, read Mah’s interview with fellow sleep advocate Arianna Huffington,  and check out this awesome infographic based on Mah’s research: