Sleep is paramount when it comes to athletic output or performance. While most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night, most regularly operate on only about 5-6 hours. Not to mention, many of us have convinced ourselves that’s all we truly ‘need’ in order to operate successfully. Much to the contrary, chronic lack of sleep may actually contribute to health problems such as weight gain, high blood pressure and a decrease in the power of our immune system.
Sleeping is incredibly undervalued in our go-go-go society. For many, adequate rest is seen as a ‘luxury’ as opposed to a necessity. And yet, if you sleep longer and better on any given night, your athletic performance is improved. Additionally, there are mood improvements related to getting extra sleep including a higher rating of vigor and lower rating of fatigue.
One reason why more sleep may improve athletic performance is because deep sleep is the time when growth hormone is released. Growth hormone stimulates muscle growth an repair, bone building and fat burning, and helps athletes to recover. Sleep deprivation or chronic ‘sleep debt’ slows the release of growth hormone. Sleep has also been shown to be necessary for learning a new skill. So, this phase of sleep may be critical for some athletes.
Creating a welcome sleep environment is very important in your quest for adequate rest. Light, temperature, and noise are all factors to take into consideration. The room needs to be dark, the temperature should be cool and noise should be eliminated or restricted. Sometimes the aid of a fan and/or sound machine is just what the doctor ordered to drown out disruptive outside noises.
Another thing to consider is your daily pre-sleep ritual. Tasks that are too intense or tend to stress you out should be avoided at least two hours before bedtime. Exercise, especially, should not be performed too late in the day. Reading a book or meditating are calming activities/behaviors that can help you wind down and psychologically prepare you for sleep.
Here are some tips to improve your sleep schedule especially when training for a race and/or event:
- Prioritize sleep as part of your training program aiming for 7-9 hours.
- Try to go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time most days of the week.
- Extend your hours of sleep right before competition.
- Take brief naps as needed, especially if you feel drowsy during the day.