The Value of Naps
Most people know that sleep is important, but many fail to understand exactly how essential good sleep is for our health. While we are sleeping, our bodies repair injuries, reduce inflammation, and allow the mind to recover. Inflammation is a huge factor in diseases such as cancer, heart disease, sinusitis, and numerous other ailments, and anytime your body doesn’t get to recover completely, inflammation builds up in the body. This weakens the immune system and makes you more susceptible to the diseases mentioned above. In fact, it’s been found that even the simple sleep disruption of the annual Daylight Savings Time changeover causes a noticeable increase in heart attacks amongst the US population!
Lack of sleep has also been directly correlated to deficiencies in cognitive performance and reaction time. In other words, hand-eye coordination is affected, driving becomes dangerous, and you become less capable at work and school. The average person needs between seven and nine hours of sleep, with the hours before midnight being more valuable—but with our busy lives, most people only get between five and six hours of sleep. And the worst part is that sleep deficiencies add up and have a cumulative effect known as a sleep debt. Research is unclear about how long it takes to make up for lack of sleep, with some suggesting that it takes multiple hours to make up for a single hour of lost sleep, while others maintain that you can never make up for missed sleep.
The statistics about lack of sleep are pretty shocking. People who work their entire career on the night shift appear to shorten their lives by around seven years! Meanwhile, the average mother loses as many as 900 hours of sleep in the first year after childbirth.
Obviously the lack of sleep can have a detrimental effect on people, but for athletes sleep might be even more important. Athletes build up more inflammation in the body and have more breakdown of muscles and cells that need to be repaired than the average person, and in general need around nine hours of sleep per night. But because of their work ethic and focus on their respective sports, athletes tend to get less sleep than they should. For this reason, many NBA players have a consistent routine of napping on game days, a few hours before their games start. This has been shown to improve reaction time, basketball-related skills, and even the ability to remember plays. And since many NBA games are played at night, and teams are busing from city to city overnight, those naps are extra important! Some teams even employ sleep specialists to consult with their players and ensure they are sleeping (and napping!) enough.
Surfers can take a lesson from basketball players when it comes to sleep habits. We tend to be pretty obsessive about our sport, especially when the waves are good. We travel long distances to chase swells, often missing out on sleep during red-eye flights or overnight road trips. When the waves are pumping, we are up early to prep for the dawn patrol, often going into sleep debt to ensure we are on it when the conditions are perfect. Then we surf all day long, trying to get as many waves as possible because we know that it could be weeks or even months before the waves are this good again. Instead of suffering through sleep debt, it's a good idea to try to grab a few zzz’s whenever we can, napping between sessions, on flights, and any other time we have the opportunity.
On a recent trip to P-Pass in Micronesia, Hawaiian South Shore’s resident explorer and surf journalist Matt Rott spent four days getting barreled out of his mind—up at 4:30 am each day, not getting home until around 8:00 pm each night, and still having to make dinner and prep for the next day.
By the time the swell had faded, Matt and his crew were completely exhausted, and one of the guys on the trip—a barrel-hound from Kauai named Nate—lay down on the floor and ended up sleeping for 19 hours straight. While the rest of the crew laughed at his ability to pass out for so long, by the time Nate woke up, he was refreshed and ready to surf again—just in time for the next pulse of swell to hit!