In my last clinical update on sleep and sports injury in adolescent athletes, I described the stressors that they face in day to day training and competition. As well as these high-volume and intensity training schedules, these athletes are exposed to many non-training stressors. This highlights sleep as being central in aiding the short-term and long-term recovery of these athletes. Recommendations were that athletes be educated on the role of sleep for performance and recovery. Further, pro-active screening may help identity poor sleep quality or sleep-deprivation in this group.
Adolescents and young adults (ages:12 to 25 years) have been identified as a population at high risk of sleep problems (Wolfson, 2010). Often, due to intense sporting, academic and social schedules, the elite adolescent athletes find it difficult maintaining optimal sleep health. As well as aiming for an earlier sleep time, limiting interaction with technology late at night technological and optimising the sleeping environment is vital. Additionally, napping has been proposed as a strategy to manage periods of restricted nocturnal sleep (Venter, 2012). Napping has the ability to act as a prophylactic strategy against learning deficits sleep-deprived athletes may experience (Reilly & Edwards, 2007)
Naturally, we all experience a second peak of sleepiness approximately eight hours after we wake up, otherwise known as the post-lunch dip (Reilly & Edwards, 2007; Stores, 2001). Early investigations into sleep have found that napping between 10 and 15 minutes at this peak may have positive effects on performance (Postolache et al., 2005; Zarcone, 1989). These effects can be beneficial to the learning of visual and motor skills (Walker & Stickgold, 2005) to the extent that napping has been reported to positively affect mental and physical performance in partially sleep-deprived individuals (Waterhouse, Atkinson, Edwards, & Reilly, 2007). Further, napping can help to improve alertness (Reisser, 2006), task performance levels, self-confidence and daytime vigilance (Hayashi, Watanabe, & Hori, 1999).
Waterhouse and colleagues (2007) reported napping as being associated with a significantly increased alertness and decreased daytime sleepiness. However, there were no significant correlations between subjective sleep quality and the rise in alertness or fall in sleepiness. When athletes were required to complete a sprint test, there appeared to be a significant difference in sprint times (2- and 20-metre) between those who napped and those who did not nap. This study shows that a 30-minute nap may cause some ‘sleep-inertia’ which requires some adjustment time before being fully alert. This was identified by the short term memory test which required participants to count backwards. Despite this, this research has shown that napping improves alertness and aspects of mental and physical performance following partial sleep loss.
In summary, there is sufficient research supporting the notion that “the ability to nap for short periods during the day may be a useful skill for players to develop, especially during a congested schedule” (Dupont et al., 2010; Nedelec et al., 2013).