Is it up to your morning coffee to jolt you awake? Too often, we rely on stimulants to get us going, when in fact we should be waking up feeling refreshed and ready for the day ahead.
Getting a good night’s sleep might seem like a luxury but it’s a necessity of life. For athletes, the need for a good night’s sleep is even greater. James Maas, Ph.D says “If you sleep longer and better, you can be a better athlete overnight.”
Effects of sleep on athletic performance
Sleep is an important part of the training and recovery process. As you move through the sleep cycle, blood flow to the muscles increases and this is when your body rebuilds and repairs tissues. For those who are sleep deprived, there can be negative physiological effects, such as impaired glucose metabolism and glycogen synthesis (ie. the ability to store energy is lowered) and increased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
Those who are sleep deprived may experience slower storage of glycogen, which prevents the storage of fuel that an athlete needs for endurance events beyond 90 minutes. Less sleep increases the possibility of fatigue, low energy and poor focus at game time.
In order to maximise the recovery process, it is important for athletes to normalise their sleeping patterns. According to Dr. Bert Jacobson, a professor from Oklahoma State University, “Research shows that sleeping better and longer leads to improvements in athletic performance, including faster sprint time, better endurance, lower heart rate, and even improved mood and higher levels of energy during a workout.”
So the greater the intensity and effort of training, the greater the need for planned recovery for high-level athletes.
Signs of sleep deficiency
Michelle Austin from the ACT Academy of Sport says you may need to address your sleeping habits if you have any of the following signs and symptoms:
- It takes more than 15-20 minutes to fall asleep
- You experience a broken and restless sleep
- You wake up unrefreshed, in spite of spending longer in bed
How much sleep you need
Expert opinion varies somewhat on this topic, although typically the recommendation is around 7-8 hours a night. For athletes, additional sleep may be as useful as additional kilojoules are during periods of rigorous training. An extra hour or two of sleep will assist with recovery and alertness when training and competing.
When trying to work out how much sleep is right for you, try keeping a journal of your sleep patterns. If you include the times you go to sleep and wake up, how you feel when you wake up and your athletic performance the following day, you should be able to map out how much sleep sees you performing at your best.
Strategies for a better night’s sleep
If you’re not getting enough sleep, or find you have a broken sleep, then implementing some sleep strategies will go a long way to getting you back on track.
Set a nightly bedtime. There’s a reason this works for kids, the regularity allows the body to adjust to natural circadian rhythms and can result in improved mood, concentration and energy.
Adjust the conditions you sleep in. Make sure your bedroom is dark, that it’s quiet and comfortably cool. Also, check the condition of your mattress and pillow – if they’re too old or unsuitable, you may need to upgrade.
Don’t overstimulate before bedtime. Do everything you need to prepare for sleep. That means don’t eat for a couple of hours before bed because it’s hard to get a good night’s sleep when you’re overfull. Likewise, don’t be hungry or thirsty when you go to sleep. Turn off the electronic devices 30 minutes before sleep and start to wind down.
Stick to a routine. Unfortunately, you can’t catch up on sleep over the course of the week so do your best to stick to your designated bedtime whenever possible. Don’t nap too close to bedtime and create a pre-bed routine that works for you (eg. reading a book, snuggling up).