A short sleep during the day can significantly increase reaction times and decision making
Photo Danny Bird
‘I can’t translate Sudoku directly into bike racing, but I know it works the same area of the brain you use when making rapid decisions during a sprint,’ Mark Cavendish once told this very magazine.
But now a recent study published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine might have found a less puzzling way to sharpen up reaction times.
The study took elite-level soccer players and subjected them to two tests, the ‘Trail Making Test’, where participants drew a line between 24 randomly arranged circles in either consecutive numerical order or a mixture of number and letter order, and a ‘Modified Loughborough Soccer Passing Test’, where participants made a series of passes while examiners monitored how frequently they completed a ‘scanning activity’ (looking around to make assessments).
A cross-over design experiment then examined nap and no-nap opportunities, with ‘nap opportunities’ meaning a 40-minute spell at midday.
Tests were carried out at 3:20pm and 3:30pm respectively.
Subjective sleepiness was also assessed, and while there was no significant difference between perceived sleepiness or TMT scores, the nap group completed the passing test some 4.2 seconds faster (completion time around 20 seconds) and performed 4.6 more scanning activities per test (around 13 times).
This led researchers to conclude, ‘Daytime napping is likely to benefit soccer related cognitive function, represented by visuospatial processing and decision-making.’
Of course, soccer isn’t cycling, but when riders such as Cav are called to make split-second decisions at 70kmh surrounded by other riders, getting in a pre-race nap might just prove an effective tool.