Why You Should Think Twice Before Taking A Pre-Workout Nap

Working out can be hard sometimes, especially when you exercise in the afternoon or toward the end of the day. Your motivation levels might be low, and you may feel tired or lethargic after work. 

This is when you might be tempted to take a nap before heading to the gym. What harm can it do? At least you'll feel rested enough to stick to your fitness goals, right? You might want to think twice about this logic, say some experts, especially if your nap is going to last longer than 20 to 30 minutes. The reason is because of something called sleep inertia. Ever felt groggy, drowsy, confused, and disoriented after a nap? This is what happens when you nap for too long. 

Sleep physician and medical director of the Indiana Sleep Center, Dr. Abhinav Singh, described sleep inertia as "the temporary degradation of alertness and performance [that happens] immediately after [waking up] after a prolonged sleep period," per CNBC Make It. When you nap for more than 30 minutes, your body goes into a deep sleep stage, which can not only be hard to wake up from but also leave you feeling lethargic and demotivated to exercise. While long naps are one of the things you should never do before a workout, the same cannot be said for shorter snooze times.   

Why shorter naps might actually help exercise performance

Shorter naps — ones that last 20-30 minutes — are a whole other story. Senior research scientist and adjunct professor of kinesiology at University of Calgary, Amy Bender, told Triathlete that there is a benefit to short naps pre-workout and longer naps after heavy exercising as well. "We recommend 20-minute naps on important training and competition days, and a 90-minute nap on days off or recovery from a long or hard workout," she explained. When you take a 20-minute nap before exercising, you'll wake up feeling refocused and energized. 

The key with pre-workout naps is to sleep for just long enough to feel rejuvenated for exercise and avoid going anything beyond that. You may have heard of the term "power naps." This is what experts recommend as a pre-workout nap. According to pulmonologist and sleep apnea specialist, Dr. Samuel Gurevich, power naps can last anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes, and they "can help you refill your tank a bit" (via Cleveland Clinic). 

Basically, there's an art to napping if you want to get in some quick zzzs before hitting the gym. Here's how to do it right.

How to nap the right way before a workout

We already know that you should avoid long naps. Setting a timer for 30 minutes or even before will help you stick to your recommended sleep time. And whatever you do, think twice about hitting the snooze button. 

Prepping the stage for the pre-workout nap is important too. Your room should be dark and relaxing and the temperature cool and comfortable, per Sleep Cycle. The time of day matters too, especially if you don't want your nap to disrupt your circadian rhythm and eventually affect how well you sleep at night. Dr. Samuel Gurevich recommends taking a nap earlier in the afternoon, per Cleveland Clinic. Between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. is a good time frame, per Amy Bender (via Triathlete). Drinking a cup of coffee before you indulge in your power nap can also aid your workout. "Caffeine typically takes 15 minutes to be metabolized so by the time the person wakes up, they should be alert and ready to go by benefiting from the nap and the caffeine," explained Bender. 

Remember, though, that naps aren't a replacement for proper sleep at night. If you're constantly feeling tired during the day and this is not only affecting your workout schedule but other areas of your life, you may want to see a sleep specialist about your sleep habits.