“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
If you’re an athlete and you adhere to this mantra, you are cutting out the most valuable component of your training. Without adequate rest, athletes just cannot perform their best.
Most research indicates that the average adult needs about 8 hours of sleep a night to feel rested. Due to the demands an athlete places on his or her body, more rest is not only recommended, but can contribute to stronger performances in training and racing.
More sleep means more performance
Cheri Mah of the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory has been following the sleep patterns and athletic performance of Stanford athletes for years. In 1999, Mah published a study that found that the athletes on the Stanford University women’s tennis team were able to run faster sprints and hit more accurate shots after getting 10 hours of sleep a night for 5 weeks.
Those athletes who did not get additional sleep saw no improvement in their athletic performance.
In earlier studies, Mah found extra sleep over several weeks improved the performance, mood, and alertness of athletes on Stanford’s swim teams and the men’s basketball team.
Sleep deprivation can derail athletes
Depriving yourself of sleep, however, can dramatically hinder sports performance.
Eve Van Cauter, Ph.D., from the University of Chicago Medical School, studied the effects of three different durations of sleep in 11 men ages 18 to 27. For the first three nights of the study, the men slept eight hours per night; for the next six nights, they slept four hours per night; for the last seven nights, they slept 12 hours per night.
Results showed that after four hours of sleep per night, test subjects metabolized glucose less efficiently. In addition, levels of the stress hormone cortisol were also higher during periods of sleep deprivation.
Van Cauter said that after only one week of restricted sleep, the test subjects no longer had normal glucose levels and body fuctions were rapidly deteriorating. Glucose and glycogen are the main sources of energy for athletes. When sleep deprived, athletes may experience slower storage of glycogen, which prevents athletes from storing the fuel they need for endurance events beyond 90 minutes.
Additionally, the elevated levels of cortisol may impair muscle recovery and tissue growth. Over time, this can prevent an athlete from responding to heavy training, and lead them to feel overtrained and potentially injured.
Here’s a list of tips to help you sleep better:
- Do not take naps longer than 2 hours. Greater than 2 hours may disrupt circadian rhythm leading to sleep phase disorder.
- Sleep only when sleepy.
- Avoid alcohol. Alcohol initially acts as a stimulant.
- Avoid heavy studying or computer games at least 1 hour before bed.
- Avoid working-out less than 3 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid arguments just before bed. Never go to bed mad.
- Tackle underlying sources of worry and anxiety.
- Avoid trying to sleep with lights, computer monitor, radio, or TV on.
- Make sure your bedroom is quiet, cool, dark, and comfortable.
- Sleep later on weekends but no more than 2 – 3 hours.
- Get up and go to sleep at the same time each day. Get into a habit.
- Develop sleep rituals. Only use your bed for sleeping. Do not study, talk on the phone, or eat in bed. Learn to associate your bed with falling asleep.
- Take a hot bath or shower ~ 90 minutes before bedtime.
- If you can’t fall asleep within 20 mins, get up and do something boring.
- Have a light snack before bed. Tryptophan in milk and turkey is a natural sleep inducer.
- Open blinds or turn on lights as soon as morning alarm goes off to aid arousal.
- Spend time in the sunlight every day.