To Nap or Not to Nap? A Systematic Review Evaluating Napping Behavior in Athletes and the Impact on Various Measures of Athletic Performance

Nat Sci Sleep. 2021 Jun 24:13:841-862. doi: 10.2147/NSS.S315556. eCollection 2021.


Purpose: The objective of this systematic review was to 1) determine how studies evaluated napping behavior in athletes (frequency, duration, timing and measurement); 2) explore how napping impacted physical performance, cognitive performance, perceptual measures (eg, fatigue, muscle soreness, sleepiness and alertness), psychological state and night-time sleep in athletes.

Methods: Five bibliographic databases were searched from database inception to 11 August 2020. Observational and experimental studies comprising able-bodied athletes (mean age ≥12 years), published in English, in peer-reviewed journal papers were included. The Downs and Black Quality Assessment Checklist was used for quality appraisal.

Results: Thirty-seven studies were identified of moderate quality. Most studies did not include consistent information regarding nap frequency, duration, and timing. Napping may be beneficial for a range of outcomes that benefit athletes (eg, physical and cognitive performance, perceptual measures, psychological state and night-time sleep). In addition, napping presents athletes with the opportunity to supplement their night-time sleep without compromising sleep quality.

Conclusion: Athletes may consider napping between 20 to 90 min in duration and between 13:00 and 16:00 hours. Finally, athletes should allow 30 min to reduce sleep inertia prior to training or competition to obtain better performance outcomes. Future studies should include comprehensive recordings of nap duration and quality, and consider using sleep over a 24 hour period (daytime naps and night-time sleep period), specifically using objective methods of sleep assessment (eg, polysomnography/actigraphy).

Keywords: athlete; health behavior; performance; physical health; psychological health; sleep; sports.

Publication types

  • Review