Benefits Of Napping After A Workout

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We know that sleep is an essential part of overall health and fitness. But did you know there are benefits to napping after a workout?

The period immediately following intense exercise is critical. Muscles are tired, energy stores are depleted, and your body signals for rest. A well-timed nap can help you jumpstart the repair process.

But don’t just use your morning run as an excuse to get back in bed and sleep late! Here are the benefits of napping after a workout and how to do it correctly for maximum effect.

That Feel-Good Feeling After Exercise

Whether you’re running or doing another kind of workout, endorphins get released in response to exercise and bring on that “runner’s high.” This usually makes us feel energized and ready to face the day, so why would a nap after a workout help?

What Happens to Your Body After a Workout

To figure out why a nap is helpful, first, we must understand what happens to your body after exercising. Once you’ve stopped your activity, endorphins promote relaxation, which is the body’s way of starting the recovery process.

Your body begins the muscle repair process almost immediately after your workout. It initiates an inflammatory response to deal with the micro-tears in your muscles from exercise, and the increased blood flow helps this process to begin.

Your heart is beating faster and pumping oxygen-rich and nutrient-loaded blood to every muscle and organ. Your breathing rate is also elevated briefly after exercise to keep bringing in substantial amounts of oxygen.

You’ve also most likely burned through your muscles’ available energy sources during your workout, which means they’re now depleted and relying on your body’s stored energy sources to keep them going.

Most of the time, you’ll have something to eat and hop in the shower after your workout, which refuels your body and warms it up, bringing back some energy to carry on with your day.

How Your Body Temperature Contributes to Napping

Body temperature is part of the circadian rhythm. As part of natural sleep-inducing processes, your body temperature begins to decrease, which slows down the metabolism and can make you feel tired and sluggish.

When you work out, your temperature naturally increases. But once you’ve finished your workout and your body’s cooling down, especially as you stop sweating as sweat cools on your skin, your temperature drops again.

This drop in core temperature can trigger the body to react the same way it would respond to your natural circadian rhythm, making you feel like napping.

Exercise-Induced Fatigue: The Flip Side of Feeling Good

A good meal and a shower should be enough to replenish your energy after exercise. But if you find yourself feeling exhausted enough to nap after every workout, you might be suffering from exercise-induced fatigue.

Experts define fatigue as “an internal homeostasis breakdown caused by an increase in energy production demanded by an external stimulus.” In a nutshell, this means that your body can no longer regulate itself properly because it’s expended too much energy.

Exercise-induced fatigue is most often a sign of overdoing it. If you’ve pushed yourself too hard in your workout, your body will need extra help to recover, which is why you might feel the need to nap as well as eating and showering.

But remember that many things go into feeling tired after your workout. An inadequate sleep the night before, training fasted when you’re not used to it, changing your terrain, and multiple other things can tire you out.

The occasional fatigue after a workout is normal, but if you’re feeling like napping after every workout, then you might need to assess why and fix the root cause.

Benefits of Napping After a Workout

All that being said, having a nap after your workout can give you multiple benefits. We don’t recommend exercising so hard that you NEED to nap after every workout, but you can use naps as a strategic tool as part of your recovery process. Here are the benefits.

Muscle Recovery

We’ve already spoken about how the muscle repair and recovery process starts almost right away when you finish working out. Your body creates muscle inflammation, which is part of the process of muscle “injury” and healing.

During sleep, the body releases cytokines designed to lower inflammation. This can kick off the muscle healing process faster than it would if you waited hours after your workout until sleeping.

Resting your muscles after exercise—especially if you eat beforehand—also allows them to start storing glycogen for energy again.

Recovery isn’t the only muscular process that happens during a nap, though. Muscle growth can be impacted in a positive way, especially if you nap in the afternoon.

Research shows that human growth hormone is released during naps, which can help your muscles to recover and grow at the same time. Testosterone is also released during sleep, which can help build muscle.

Improved Cognitive Function

A quick nap can counter post-workout mental fatigue and reset your circadian rhythm, restoring you to optimal alertness so you’re ready for your day.

In most cases, there’s no need for a nap if you’re feeling good and alert after a post-workout meal and shower. But when you feel a little more sluggish or have trouble concentrating, a nap can give you the mental boost you need.

It can be a helpful tool if you need to drive, operate heavy machinery, or do deep focused work after your workout.

Boosted Immune System

During a run, your body is under stress. Cortisol levels are higher than usual, and your muscles are working hard. When you end your workout and cool down, your body is vulnerable.

Anything that might have been lurking—a sneaky cold, for example—may find a way to get past your defenses when your body’s busy recovering from your exercise.

Taking a nap can prevent this because the body releases certain hormones during sleep that fight inflammation, infection, and potential threats.

Lurking sickness can also contribute to you feeling unusually tired after your workout, so a nap could be highly beneficial in this case.

Enhanced Mood and Mental Well-Being

All of the above benefits work together to improve your mood. Being mentally alert and feeling good physically leads to a better mood during the day.

This can be a cycle. Negative moods can disrupt sleep; anxiety and depression can make it harder to fall asleep and can also reduce the quality of the sleep you do get.

Poor moods also have a physiological effect, like increased heart rates and respiratory rates, which can hamper your sleep. And worse sleep leads to worse moods, which means it can be hard to break out of that cycle.

A quick nap after your workout will benefit you by allowing your body and mind to rest, heal, and recover immediately.

Your cortisol levels will decrease during your nap, you’ll replenish some mental energy, and you’ll wake up feeling stronger and with less muscle soreness. Each of these factors has a positive effect on your mood.

Better Overall Performance

When you’re recovering better physically, feeling better mentally, thinking more sharply, and your immune system is stronger, better performance is a natural follow-up!

Use naps correctly, and they can be a valuable tool to perform better in whatever type of workout you do.

Timing is Everything: When to Nap After a Workout

It’s a good idea to nap as soon as possible after your workout, although we recommend having a good meal and a shower first.

Eating first will give your body the building blocks for muscle repair—protein—and the necessary nutrients to replenish your glycogen stores—carbohydrates.

Science shows that between 1 and 3 pm, your body goes through what’s called the “post-lunch dip”, during which you’ll naturally feel more sleepy. If you can time your post-workout nap to coincide with this, it works perfectly.

It’s best not to nap after that, though, because it can interfere with your regular sleep schedule. Also, it’s best not to nap right before you need to do something that requires a lot of concentration because it’s natural to take some time to wake up properly and come back to full mental capacity.

What Is the Ideal Nap Duration?

Research indicates that 90 minutes is the perfect nap duration. It’s enough time to go through a full sleep cycle so you wake up feeling refreshed and not groggy.

But that’s not always possible, depending on your schedule. Other scientific evidence suggests that naps between 30 and 45 minutes can also be beneficial.

Can You Nap After Every Workout?

You can, but unless your schedule is quite open, it’s not practical. Rather, pick your hardest workout of the week and schedule it so you can nap afterward.

If you’re feeling tired enough after every workout that you need a nap, it might be worth examining your exercise routine, workout intensity, recovery, and nutrition.

You could be overtraining, pushing yourself too hard in each workout, or not allowing your body enough rest between workouts. Examine your routine and figure out what could be making you so tired. Fixing that might eliminate the need to nap after every workout.

On the other hand, if you have the time and WANT to nap after every workout, as long as you’re doing it right, you’re welcome to do so.

Tips for Effective Post-Workout Napping

Here are some steps to making a post-workout nap a regular and practical part of your routine.

A Quiet, Comfortable Place to Nap

Where you nap matters, a quiet environment is necessary so your sleep isn’t disrupted by noise. It should also be cool, which promotes sleep and adds to your comfort. Darkness is recommended, so either find a dark room or invest in a sleep mask.

It’s a good idea to nap in the same place every time, so your body and brain come to associate it with napping. Make sure everyone knows that it’s our nap spot, so nobody disturbs you while you’re having your post-workout sleep.

To Avoid Oversleeping, Set an Alarm

Decide on your nap duration, give yourself an extra 10 minutes to fall asleep, and set an alarm for the right time.

Accidentally oversleeping can not only put you under stress if you’ve got things to do, but it can make you feel groggy when you wake, especially if you end up waking in the middle of your sleep cycle.

We recommend using an alarm tone that increases gradually in volume. This way, you aren’t shocked awake by an intrusive tone but rather gently roused.

Create a Relaxing Routine

If you struggle to fall asleep quickly, it could be helpful to create a nap routine. Use a relaxation technique like deep breathing, non-sleep deep-relaxation, meditation, or a mindfulness body scan.

These can help you to relax physically and mentally, helping you to fall asleep quicker and rest more deeply.

Hydrate

Even a short nap can dehydrate you, leaving you feeling slugging when you wake up. Drink a glass of water before you nap to stay hydrated.

Water plays a huge role in almost every physiologically process within the body, so this can also help you to get the biggest healing and recovery benefits from your nap.

Eat a Light Meal Before Your Nap

Try not to indulge in a heavy, big post-workout meal if you’re planning on napping. A light meal consisting of healthy carbohydrates, lean protein, and a minimal amount of healthy fats is best.

The protein will be beneficial for muscle building and recovery. The carbs will help to replenish your muscles’ glycogen stores. Make sure it’s not spicy!

Avoid Caffeine Before Napping

If you’re planning on napping after your workout, remember not to brew yourself a cup of strong coffee or dive into a caffeinated recovery drink after your exercise!

Being caffeinated will hamper your ability to fall asleep, and even if you do manage, your sleep quality will be reduced. Leave the caffeine for after your nap!

Listen to Your Body

Pay attention to how you feel when you nap after a workout. Does it help? Do you feel refreshed afterward? Or do you feel groggy and sluggish the rest of the day?

Everybody is different. You should experiment a little with what time of day you nap, how long you nap for, your sleep environment, and what you eat before your nap.

If all else fails, remember that napping after a workout isn’t for everyone. There’s no reason to do it if it isn’t helping, so choose based on how you feel with and without a nap after your exercise.

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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.