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Exploring SLEEP AND ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE
Athletes will do pretty much anything in order to gain an edge over their competition. From 5 am workouts and training camps to ice baths and recovery shakes, athletes stop at nothing in order to reach their peak athletic performance. However, one often overlooked aspect of an athlete’s training routine, sleep, plays an equally important role.
Recently, scientists have examined the impact sleep has on athletic performance. With more data than ever, it’s becoming clearer just how important sleep is to reaching peak athletic performance. From helping your muscles to recover and boosting performance, to the optimal sleep environment and the benefits of napping.
To kick things off, let’s dive into sleep as whole to get an understanding of what is going on with your body once you close our eyes.
Sleep is a complex physiological and behavioral state which has two primary stages. These stages are rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM (NREM). In order for you to wake up feeling rested, and get all of the benefits from a full night of sleep such as the natural release of Human Growth Hormone (more on this later in our series), your body needs to cycle multiple times between these two states. Easy peasy right? Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. Every time you wake up from a sleep disturbance, such as overheating, your partner moving around, or a loud noise, your body starts the sleep cycle all over again.
That’s why it is so important that athletes (and sleepers in general) do everything they can to reduce sleep disturbances. Such as taking control of their sleep environment, choosing the proper bedding, and having a set sleep routine.
Being told that sleep is important to your athletic performance is kind of like being told that lifting heavier weights will make you stronger. However, when armed with the knowledge of all the benefits a great night’s sleep has for your athletic performance, you will understand why a great night of sleep is just as important as your actual training sessions.
Sleep is one of the most important factors to your overall athletic performance.
SLEEP AND RECOVERY
Your athletic performance and getting stronger isn’t just about what you do in your training sessions. Making sure you have a planned recovery and downtime are just as important. Many athletes already boost their recovery efforts by doing things like drinking recovery shakes or using a foam roller. Still, you may be surprised at how important a full night’s sleep is for helping your muscles recover.
With so much going on in an athlete’s daily life from two-a-day practices, to work and family time, it’s no surprise that most athletes get less than the recommended amount of daily sleep. However, researchers have determined that sleep is the most important time for the body to recover. It’s actually proven that when an athlete gets the recommended daily amount of sleep, they will have better mental health, hormonal balance, and muscular recovery.
Just as athletes need more calories than most people when they’re in training, they need more sleep, too.
If you only log in the recommended hours of sleep, that isn’t going to be enough to help your body fully recover. You need to also make sure you are reaching a deep sleep. Think of it as a workout. If you only go through the motions, you won’t see the same results as if you really attack and focus on what you are training on.
There is more and more evidence showcasing the relationship between a deep sleep and the body’s natural release of Human Growth Hormone (HGH). When the body reaches a deep sleep it triggers the body to release HGH. HGH is responsible for muscle growth and repair, bone building and fat burning, and most importantly helps athletes recover. On the flip side, studies have also shown that a lack of sleep will actually slow down the release of HGH, limiting your body’s ability to fully recover after a tough workout.
“If you told an athlete you had a treatment that would reduce the chemicals associated with stress, that would naturally increase human growth hormone, that enhances recovery rate, that improves performance, they would all do it. Sleep does all of those things.”
— Casey Smith, Head Athletic Trainer, Dallas Mavericks
Sleep isn’t important only for helping your muscles recover. Interestingly enough, sleep can actually help you learn a new skill faster. Sleep plays a major role in your brain’s ability to “remember” what it just learned in your training session. In fact, studies have shown that sleep will also improve performance on visual perception tasks. If your body can learn how to do certain skills faster, you will speed up your reaction times as well as improve your body’s “muscle memory”. Without sleep, the brain struggles to consolidate memory and absorb new knowledge.
Sleep and sleep deprivation has some interesting effects on your ability to perform at your very best.
SLEEP, SLEEP DEPRIVATION, AND ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE
You already know that sleep will help
It’s funny how even a fraction of a second can make all the difference in how you perform. From seeing a play unfold to crossing the finish line first, your reaction time plays a critical role in your overall athletic performance.
There is a clear tied between sleep deprivation and a reduction in reaction times. Studies have even shown a single night of sleep deprivation can reduce reaction times by more than 300%. Additionally, it has been found that the low level of fatigue that comes with a night of no sleep can impair reaction times as much, if not more, than being legally drunk.
Being awake for 22 hours straight can slow your reaction time more than four drinks can.
Obviously, there are differences between a night of no sleep and being intoxicated. Nevertheless, if an athlete wouldn’t expect to have faster reaction times after putting back a couple cold of ones, they can’t expect to perform their best on less than a full night’s sleep either.
As little as one night of sleep deprivation can also decrease your physical endurance. A study showed that athletes ran significantly
Basically, that means that after a night of poor sleep, your body will feel like it’s working as hard as if you had just gotten a full night of sleep. However, you are actually putting out less effort. How can you reasonably expect to see better results if you are not pushing your body to its maximum effort?
You do everything from stretching and muscle activation to wearing the proper equipment all to prevent injury. Getting a night of quality sleep should now be added to your daily routine.
The hours of sleep and athlete gets is the strongest predictor of injuries, even more so than the hours of practice.
Sleep will help you prevent injuries during training sessions as well as in competition.
There are a few reasons why proper sleep can decrease injury rates. First off, fatigue affects reaction time. We already know that less sleep leads to slower reaction times. A tired athlete will react to a potential hit slower than a rested athlete.
Secondly, your body relies on quality sleep to provide the body with sufficient time to regenerate cells and repair from the abuse of workouts and competitions. If your body isn’t fully recovered from your last training session, there’s a higher risk of injury.
ACCURACY & SPEED
Studies have shown that not only will a full night of quality sleep improve your speed but it will also increase your accuracy. Looking at a study of Stanford’s Men’s Basketball team, when players got more sleep, they demonstrated a faster-timed sprint and their shooting accuracy improved. In fact, their free throw percentage and 3 point field goal percentage both increasing by 9%. With more sleep, similar performance improvements have been seen in weight lifters, tennis players, swimmers, and other athletes.
Athlete’s that recognize the importance of sleep can gain a large competitive advantage over their opponent.
Remember how a night of no sleep is equivalent to being legally drunk? Predictably so, sleep loss impairs your judgment. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation will impair an athlete’s motivation, focus, memory, and learning. What happens is sleep loss impairs the frontal lobe of the brain. This has negative effects on your decision-making abilities such as sensitivity to risk-taking, moral reasoning, and inhibitions.
When you apply this learning to athletic performance, an athlete that is sleep deprived will make more mental errors. Take baseball players for example. Common logic would predict that the more times a player is at the plate, the more discipline they would have. Meaning they would swing less at a ball outside of the strike-zone. However, the opposite has been shown to be true. Players consistently showed better judgment at the beginning of the season than at the end. The suspected cause is the mental fatigue suffered during the grueling 162 game season.
THE BEST SLEEP ENVIRONMENT FOR ATHLETES
When you compete you want it to be in the optimal environment, so why won’t this also be true for your bedroom? Not surprisingly, when you sleep in the optimal environment, you get a better, deeper sleep. Which in turn helps your body reap all the benefits a full night of sleep has on your athletic performance.
So what is the optimal sleep environment? Start with the temperature of your room. Researchers have found that playing with the thermostat, and your bedding, can make a big difference in your quality of sleep.
Studies have shown that a cooler room helps you fall asleep faster. This is due to that fact that throughout the day, your body temperature instinctively rises and falls. When you begin to fall asleep, your body naturally cools off. If you are able to speed up the cooling off process and reach a lower body temperature faster, it will become easier to fall asleep.
To reach peak athletic performance, athlete’s most focus on their sleeping environment.
Multiple studies back this claim, including one from the Center for Chronobiology in Switzerland. They found that a drop in your core temperature triggers your body to begin preparing for sleep.
Dr. Francesco Celi, chair of Virginia Commonwealth University’s division of endocrinology and metabolism, found that even a small reduction in bedroom temperature influences melatonin production, a chemical that helps you fall asleep.
YOUR ROOMS TEMPERATURE AND BROWN FAT
Although brown fat doesn’t sound healthy, it actually helps your body burn calories and
People with more brown fat have a faster metabolism, better blood sugar control, and higher insulin sensitivity.
THE RELEASE OF HGH
Your room’s temperature can also affect the amount of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) your body releases. Sleeping in conditions above 70 degrees will inhibit your body from cooling down naturally. When your body doesn’t cool down naturally, it won’t trigger the body to produce elevated levels of HGH; which is crucial to helping your muscles recover.
These studies make it seem pretty clear; If you want a better and healthier night of sleep, you should turn down the thermostat. Unfortunately, it isn’t so straightforward.
In Celi’s brown fat experiment, the men slept under thin sheets and were prone to shivering. All that shivering might be beneficial to the production of brown fat, but it’s not going to help you reach a deep sleep.
A full, uninterrupted night of sleep will lead to a greater performance on the field and is more important to your athletic performance than an excess production of brown fat. The trick is to keep your room cool so you fall asleep easier, but not so cold where you wake up frequently during the night.
What experts suggest, is to focus on your body temperature as opposed to the room’s temperature. The most important thing to do is keep your skin temperature “comfortable”. Most sleepers can relate to having to push the covers off in order to fall asleep, only to pull them back on after waking up during the middle of the night shivering. As a result, you need to focus on your bedding and the role it plays on your body temperature. Surround yourself with bedding that is specifically designed to help regulate your temperature to keep you from becoming too hot or too cold.
Create the optimal sleeping environment by using bedding designed to help you sleep cooler and more comfortable throughout the night.
NAPPING FOR PEAK ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE
Admit it, do you ever really need another excuse to take a nap? If you do, you’re in luck. Although you don’t want to use naps as an alternative to getting a full night’s sleep, a nap can not only help you perform at a higher level, but they can also help you learn skills faster.
Napping has been shown to help sprinters run faster after a night of poor sleep. In addition to increasing speed, athletes have also shown a positive influence on cognitive tasks after taking a nap. How is this possible? Researchers have found that naps can reduce sleepiness which is beneficial when learning skills, strategy or tactics in
Napping is also beneficial for athletes who have to routinely wake early for training or competition especially considering the fact that those athletes are at a higher risk to suffer from sleep deprivation.
Interested in adding napping to your daily routine? Here’s a little advice to get the most out of your lunch break snooze fest.
Limit how long you nap for. The body goes through cycles while we sleep. In order to avoid waking up feeling more tired than when you first closed your eyes, you should limit your nap to 25 to 30 minutes. This amount of time allows you to rest without the risk of entering into a deep sleep and waking up feeling even more tired.
For the perfect nap, you also want to find a dark, cool, and quiet place to lie down. If necessary, try using an eye mask, ear plugs, or white noise machine to help tune out any sleep disruptions.
THE BEST SLEEP PRODUCTS FOR ATHLETES
Every athlete knows how important the right equipment is to their performance. Now that sleep is at the forefront of your athletic routine, it’s important to make sure you have the best sleep “equipment”. Here’s our picks of the best sleep products for any athlete trying to boost their performance: