I have zero recollection of the last time that I took a nap. Let’s just say it’s been years since I have intentionally grabbed some shuteye in the early afternoon. I’m certainly up for a twenty to thirty-minute recharge after lunch sometime though, much like Jim and Pam Halpert who found a cozy spot surrounded by boxes of paper in the office warehouse. Or George Costanza, who hired Jerry’s carpenter friend to modify his office desk for slumber inside Yankee Stadium. True to form – and the laziness of his character no doubt – George retreated to his wooden cave shortly after arriving to work and greeting his boss, Mr. Wilhelm.
I have to admit that this newfound intrigue with naps stems from a Women’s Health article I came across recently about “nap bars.” As author Cara Sprunk puts it, “For anyone who is ever tired in the middle of the day (read: literally everyone), here is some great news: Public nap pods are now a thing.” In New York, for instance, the weary can drop by YeloSpa for a “sleep therapy system that takes place inside of patented treatment cabins.” Is a customized nap worth $1 per minute? That’s the price you’ll shell out at YeloSpa.
I’ll pass on a nap that sets me back $1 per minute, but I am intrigued at how slumber, both at night and during the day, affects running. As a first-time parent, my sleep has been dramatically impacted by a new child, which makes adequate sack time all the more valuable from an injury reduction standpoint. Dr. Amy Bender, a sleep scientist at the Centre for Sleep & Human Performance in Calgary, focuses her research on shuteye and its physical ramifications for athletes.
Dr. Bender recommends that athletes aim for 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Unfortunately, most athletes, let alone non-athletes, attain this target. A 2013 Gallup Poll revealed that the average American sleeps 6.8 hours each night. What’s more, this figure is a 1.1-hour decline from 1942. 6.8 hours is respectable, but it’s a far cry from even the 8-hour minimum recommendation by experts. In spite of this deficiency, I am consoled by the fact that the poll also indicates that people who have children under the age of 18 are included among those who sleep the least. In other words, my son will be the source of my scattered sleep patterns for the next few decades.
Theresa Juva-Brown, a writer for Active, advises runners to avoid slacking on sleep. “Prioritize sleep with the same level of consistency and attention to detail that you pay your runs,” she says. Is it possible to integrate naps – no longer than 30 minutes – into the running routine? Yes, but it’s unlikely for most runners based on their respective work schedules and family commitments.
Consequently, since naps are usually not a viable option for most runners, the priority, then, should be placed on cultivating a bedroom environment that’s conducive to the sandman (not the Metallica kind though). First, nix the phone. In the words of Dr. Bender, “Using an electronic device for even as little as 30 minutes before bedtime has been shown to negatively impact sleep quality by reducing and delaying melatonin.” Like the phone, shutting down the television should be part of the nightly process.
Other habits of note that runners can pursue include: dark curtains; a cool (if not cold) room; and a good mattress. In fact, a friend of mine once told me that people should invest in good shoes, good tires, and a good mattress. That’s good advice. In light of how much time we spend on our feet, in our cars, and asleep counting sheep, not shirking the quality of these items is sound wisdom.
Practicing purposeful cues consistently leads to more hours of interrupted sleep, stronger energy levels during runs, and a lower risk of injury (e.g. higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, a higher heart rate, and a nervous system on constant alert). While naps are not a replacement for 7-9 hours of solid sack time in the wee small hours of the morning, they can undoubtedly help, even if it’s a small help, to make up for the deficit that life exacts. I’ll stick with my bed instead of a nap bar though as it’s already paid for in full.
I am, however, in need of a new mattress. What’s that brand with the talking sheep in the commercials?