When did you have your last good night’s rest? Many athletes should ask themselves this question more often. If you are passionate about sports you will focus on training regularly, eating healthy, and working on your will power constantly. But how about regeneration? Especially night’s sleep? How important is sleep for your performance? This week’s Tutorial Thursday is trying to answer these questions.
Regeneration is vital for performance improvements in sports. If you expose your organism to the necessary impulses it will need rest periods to repair itself and initiate adjustment processes. You could say that it would like to be prepared for the next time these kinds of challenges (or similar challenges) occur. The muscle actually grows during the rest periods, not during your workout sessions. And regeneration pretty much starts right after an intensive workout. With purposeful nutrition, fascia training, heat and cold treatments, and moderate, subthreshold exercises or training sessions you can positively influence regeneration, reduce muscle soreness, and increase the ongoing degradation processes and muscle growth. What most athletes forget: a good night’s sleep is an equally important part of these processes.
John Doe can also appreciate if s/he isn’t limited by tired legs, muscle soreness or pain for a week after one training session.
Boost for your performance: sleep
You should also be well rested if you want to bring peak performance.
The factual situation is not yet fully resolved but it seems as if sleep deficit and physiological performance are deeply connected.
An australian study has shown that professional sprinters underperform after 30 hours without sleep and deliver weaker times on average. An american study from the University of Stanford has similar findings. They examined the performances of tennis players.
It is, however, a topic of discussion whether the reasons for the decreased performances can be found in the motivation since sleep deprivation has a big impact on the frame of mind. It could be that psyche is the limiting factor here.
Another study showed that sleep-deprived athletes had significantly lowered glycogen concentrations in their muscles, which means that the muscles have less energy to spend.
The reasons could be found in the metabolism. Sleep deprivation will change the hormonal balance what in turn will strongly influence energy supply.
Several other studies prove the connection between sleep deprivation and physical and mental performance:
If you take a look at the facts you will frequently encounter symptoms like deadness, reduced attention, poor reactivity and so forth as results from sleep deprivation. You have probably experienced it yourself. You fell into bed way too late, had to get up at 6 in the morning the next day, and do sports one hour later. And I don’t mean the short sprint for the bus that you have to catch. This will be hard for most of us but it can’t really be compared to a well-rested form. You might just have noticed something is holding you back during sports. I have this every time when I haven’t slept long enough the night before. In the workout it will simply be one or more reps, or even sets, less.
What can we do about it?
- In general it is very helpful to get to bed early. Depending on your working hours, your family obligations, and other commitments this can or can’t be possible. The average German goes to bed at about 23h to 23:30h and gets up at 6h or 6:30h. This would be 7 hours of sleep if all goes well. According to sleep scientists this is still not enough! A solid 8 hours or more are recommended. Additionally, many people have trouble falling asleep right away, wake up several times during the night, or don’t have long enough slow-wave sleep phases. So even 7 hours of sleeping time don’t necessarily equal 7 hours of effective sleep.
- Additionally, you should ready your body for sleep about an hour before actually going to sleep. Don’t do activities that will stir you up. Trying to sleep directly after a workout is mostly not a good idea. Going to bed one minute after the final whistle of the Germany-Argentina World Cup final would have been impossible for most because the adrenalin was still pumping through their veins and sleep was out of the question. Drinking coffee and other caffeinated drinks should also take place after sleeping, not before. You should prepare yourself mentally for sleeping about half an hour, maybe reflect your day without focussing on stressful aspects. If you train in the evening: take a shower afterwards and eat something and you probably have taken enough time to slow down your body and mind enough to catch a good night’s sleep.
- If you are watching TV or working on your computer before sleeping you will likely have trouble falling asleep. Not only because of the football world cup but because of the blue light that electronic devices emit. It has an activating effect on us and the cold light makes it hard for our body to produce serotonin. Serotonin is a hormone that has a calming effect and causes satisfaction. If it is absent or we don’t produce enough we have a hard time calming down. My tip: turn off all electronic devices half an hour before sleeping (and yes, that includes your cellphone)!
- Sleep in total darkness. This also promotes the aforementioned serotonin release. You might think: ‘But I have my eyes closed!’ Sure, that might be right but there is still some light shining through your eyelids and you will register that unconsciously. I used to keep my shutters open just a bit because I had the feeling that it would leave me more air to breath. But in the end the light post in front of my bedroom windows prevented me from sleeping really well. A couple of years ago I have decided to keep my bedroom completely dark at night (even the glowing button of my multi socket or another standby light were annoying). Now, when I am on vacation or stay at a friend’s place over night I realize how fundamentally important complete darkness is for my sleep.
- Temperature plays the last critical role in the theater of nighttime peace. If it is too warm you can’t sleep well. If it is too cold you can’t relax well because you are freezing. Experts recommend sleeping with an opened window. This will increase air circulation which in turn increases oxygen content of the air and slightly lowers the temperature. In winter it might be too cold, however, so it is a good idea to fully open the windows shortly before going to bed and let the air in. And when you go to bed you can close the windows again.
Looking at all the tips above I would bet that most people still have some room for improvements when it comes to their sleeping habits. Especially when you are actively doing sports sleep is an important aspect of your regeneration phase and, thus, an important part of your training as a whole. Much like you probably don’t want to let your training slide you shouldn’t disregard your sleep! Save your gains!