Sleep is essential. We all know it, and most of us would like to get more. But why is this so, and how do we accomplish it?
Why is Sleep so Important for Recovery?
According to research, there has been a 4,000 % increase in scientific research on sleep today.
This number alone should give you a perspective on how important and valuable sleep is. Also, this increase is likely derived from approximately 52 % of sport athletes witch reported sleeping difficulties over the years.
Getting less than eight hours of sleep per night was associated with almost twice the risk of injury than more than eight hours of sleep over a 21-month period.
Even more astonishing is that almost 60 % of team sport athletes report no interest in using any strategy to alter their negative effects of sleep deprivation.
Benefits of Sleep for Athletes
Looking for a serious breakthrough in your fitness journey? Well, you just found it! I’ll show you how alterations in sleep affect athletes.
Scientific research has determined multiple changes in performance for athletes who get enough sleep, including:
- Increased jump power (and therefore jump height)
- Increase in exercise capacity (being able to work harder and faster)
- Increase in ability to adapt to training stimulus
- Improve ability to build muscle and cardiovascular fitness
- Enhanced ability to develop accuracy techniques
- Faster recovery from injuries
- Increase in cognitive performance
It is obvious, a quality sleep regimen improves physical and mental performance.
What Impacts Our Ability to Sleep?
Common sense and research say that we as fitness enthusiasts/athletes have multiple factors which affect our sleep:
- Repeated exercise (gym workouts, cardio sessions, various sports, etc.) in short periods to each other
- Travelling (even as little as 1-3 hours can negatively affect sleep)
- Stress (loads of stress increase the need for sleep and recovery)
All of these tend to increase the demand for sleep. Adding the problems our busy lives bring, social interactions, work problems, financial issues, and similar, all overload one’s ability to gain quality sleep. At least it’s good to know that new research has shown that exercising later in the day does not cause poor sleep.
How Does Sleep Work?
Before we dive into how you can improve sleep, we first should know the basics.
Sleep is separated in stages. These are called NREM (stages 1-4) and REM (stage 5).
As you sleep, you move through each of these stages, with different brain and bodily functions occurring as you go. Each cycle lasts about 90 to 120 minutes, during which your body undergoes recovery, maintenance and adaption, with each stage of sleep focusing on different aspects.
As a result, if you don’t complete several sleep cycles during bedtime you will miss a key opportunity for your body to recover, adapt, and improve from the training or any other physical activity done the day before.
How to Actually Improve Sleep?
We have three key components which you should focus on if you plan on improving sleep and recovery:
1. Sleep Duration – Total time asleep (not pillow time with eyes closed, but real sleep)
2. Sleep Quality – The quality of your sleep
3. Sleep Phase – Actual bed time and sleep routine
An efficient strategy should aim to target at least one or more of these components.
Generally 6 to 8 hours of sleep is recommended. Increasing this up to 10 hours per night for certain athletes has shown performance improvements in speed and accuracy. If you take part in strenuous physical activity, you’ll likely need more sleep, and therefore more recovery.
Make sure everything you can manage while awake is in place, including proper hydration and food intake, as well as your sleep routine. This is particularly important if you’re planning more gym time in the future.
Hygiene is a way to maintain our health, and sleep hygiene is by far the easiest and best option to improve sleep quality. Developing a consistent bed routine and structuring your bedroom environment is a big step towards optimal recovery.
The environment of your bedroom should be:
- Cool (19-22 degrees), dark (blinds closed) and of course quite
- No technology before bed (TV/phone/computer)
- Be prepared for the sole purpose of sleep, so avoid creating other stimuli
So no working / studying in bed, or watching TV.
Your sleep routine should:
Include about 30 minutes of preparation where:
- You avoid exposure to bring lights – particularly smartphones, computers, or any other blue light.
- You complete any remaining physical hygiene – e.g. brushing your teeth
I recommend a consistent bed and wake time.
- Use relaxation techniques such as music therapy, massages, and similar
- Avoid sugar and caffeine drinks late in the day
- Make a plan for the next day, so you get an easy start tomorrow
- If you’re unable to sleep after 20 to 30 minutes, get out of bed, go and do something calming before returning to bed and trying again.
Sleeping During the Day (Napping)
Midday sleeping is useful for paying back sleep debt and enhancing short term performance. A 20-30 minute nap after lunch is recommended, but only if you’ve had a bad night sleep beforehand.
Don’t let napping throw your day to day sleep out of order. If it impacts your evening sleep, then aim to improve other areas of sleep rather than going for a nap.
Sleep is often an overlooked tool than can not only improve our sports performance, but our overall health as well. Follow the tips mentioned in today’s blog, make a sleep routine and stick to it, and with time great results will come!