It’s no secret that sleep is a vital factor for any and all levels of athletes. Sufficient sleep is crucial for good health. It is the time when we process information and experiences, and rebuild and regenerate our body. Disruptions in this process will lessen the body’s optimal functioning and could possibly result in not feeling well and even illness.
Dr. Raymonde Jean, director of sleep medicine and associate director of critical care at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City, stated that the quality of sleep is directly related to the quality of life.
However, the question remains of how much is necessary, and how quality of sleep effects this needed amount.
The amount and quality of sleep that an athlete gets each night play a crucial role in their ability to succeed in competition, as well as prepare and improve in whichever capacity they see fit.
Understanding the Importance of Sleep for Athletes
When sleep is interrupted, the body does not have sufficient time to repair memory, consolidate memory, rejuvenate the body, and release hormones.
A study published in the journal SLEEP reaffirms the importance of sleeping in relation to performance with results that reveals significant declines in split second decision making after a poor sleep, and an increased level of accuracy in well-rested subjects.
Amongst all other factors of sleep this is extremely necessary to understand because decision making and reaction is the basis of all athletic functions, and improvements are ultimately drastically less likely when decision making and reaction time are not at their full capacity.
Training recovery is very important for everyone and sleep is indeed the single most important factor when it comes to training recovery.
Nutrition, mobility work, soft-tissue massages, and other forms of recovery are a distant second to sleeping for the recovery of the body, as it is literally your bodies recharging mechanism. Sleep is an active physiological process that enables your body to carry out vital activities.
While sleeping, your body alternates between two forms of sleep; the non-Rapid Eye Movement and the Rapid Eye Movement (REM).
This is a cycle that repeats several times throughout the night and while sleeping.
While both parts are obviously important, maximizing Rapid Eye Movement sleep efficacy is what I would consider to be the most important as it releases energy to the brain which will support it during the waking hours, and it is also vital for restoring the mind.
Stages 3 and 4 of the non-Rapid Eye Movement sleep (which is known as deep or wave sleep) is essential for restoring the body.
This level of sleep is easily obtained once REM sleep is fully managed. This is the time when the physical components of your body are rejuvenated, which happens much more easily once your mental components are accounted for.
The best training and workout program, supplement and diet will not be able to compensate for insufficient rest, sleep remains the best way of resting the body.
Amongst man other factors as well, growth hormone and testosterone surges while sleeping promote increased recovery and growth when quality sleep is created. Sleep is important, that’s the bottom line.
Listed below is a comprehensive breakdown of the stages of sleep for your body.
The Stages of Sleep
- Stage One- This stage is considered as the transition stage between sleepfulness and wakefulness. Non-REM sleep is actually the shortest period of sleep which lasts between 2-5% in the sleep/wake cycle.
- Stage Two- Stage two is considered to be baseline sleep and non-REM sleep, stage two actually accounts for 45-60% of sleep.
- Stage Three & Four- This stage is known as delta sleep, and non-REM sleep stages three and four account for about 40% of our sleep time and are usually the deepest stages of sleep. Also this is the time when restorative action for the brain takes place.
- REM Sleep- During REM sleep, the heart rate, breathing and brain activity quicken, and it is the most active stage of REM which accounts for 20-25% of normal night sleep.
What Happens During REM Sleep?
In contrast to the other sleep stages where the breathing, heart rate and brain waves slow down, during REM sleep the brain is more active, and the heart rate and breathing become faster – nearly the same as when you are awake.
Because the brain is more active, your dreams at this stage are more vivid and intense.
It’s been found that the more often you have REM sleep, the more restful the entire sleep experience is. REM sleep is also believed to play a role in mood, memory and learning. As you age however, you spend less of your time asleep in this stage.
This means that as you get older, you dream less and get less quality sleep.
One study has found that lack of dreaming in REM sleep can be linked to cognitive concerns later in life. According to the study, when you experience less REM sleep intervals, there is a 9 percent higher risk of memory and cognitive concerns as you age.
It was also found that if REM sleep was experienced for more than one-fifth of participants’ sleeping hours, no age-related cognitive problems were detected.
The study suggests that to have long-term cognitive health, you need to dream while in REM sleep.
Sleep and Muscle Recovery
Most people are not fully aware that when you work out, you are really breaking down your muscles.
When you spend hours training your muscles and strengthening your heart through intense exercise there is obviously great purpose to this, however it is literally worth nothing if you do not give yourself a chance to recover. You vitally need to aid your muscle recovery by getting enough sleep.
The amount you train or what type of damage you do to your body greatly effects how much sleep and recovery you need.
For instance, after if you were to undergo a surgery, illness or injury, you will require additional sleep and recovery time since the body is fighting something more difficult than just the breakdown of muscle tissue through training.
Athletes that are rehabbing an injury or undergoing postoperative physical therapy need to understand that their body needs an extra amount of quality sleep, and an increased quantity of sleep in order to heal.
The harder you train or the more physical damage your body has suffered, the more sleep you will need.
Sleep greatly impacts your body and your body not only recovers from exercise and repairs itself, it also grows new tissue because the body maximizes its output of growth hormones during sleep; which is why sleep is anabolic.
Sleep also replenishes critical neurotransmitters that are needed for effective bodybuilding; including the neurotransmitters adrenaline, acetylcholine, dopamine, and noradrenaline.
Bodybuilders often turn to synthetic versions of these too push their bodies to the limit even further, which is unhealthy and unadvisable.
Maximize your own natural production of these by getting quality sleep every night!
Cortisol Production and Sleep
Cortisol is a hormone that is found in the body and it actually counteracts testosterone.
Cortisol inhibits muscle growth, and also aids in the breakdown of muscle tissue. One of the main causes that can lead to an increase in you cortisol level in your body is stress, which is regularly caused as a result of insufficient sleep.
This is not a good thing for those who are trying to build muscle. By getting enough sleep, you will be able to reduce your stress level, and at the same time lower the cortisol level in your body.
Cortisol is extremely dangerous because it literally reverses the course of your training.
If you train intensely for 2 hours per day but do not aptly manage the stress hormone of your body, your training will accomplish absolutely nothing.
It is a growing trend in the fitness industry to reduce the time of training workouts in order to avoid elevating this cortisol level too much.
Although I also believe in this to a certain extent, I also believe that improving sleep quality and quantity does enough that training time can be substantially increased from the common belief, as your body will be prepared to handle this overall work volume.
More Information: Types of Hormones
Replacement of Dead Cells and Repair of Body Tissues
Available information from research suggests that during REM sleep, our body is able to restore tissue, organs, bones, circulate human growth hormone and replenish immune cells.
Considering the fact that mental alertness is essential for athletes and bodybuilders during the day (especially during training), resting the brain will ensure the alertness of athletes.
Adenosine happens to be a neurotransmitter that produces ATP which is the energy storage molecule that powers several biochemical reactions inside cells (ATP is the reason which we take creatine).
Adenosine serves as a signal to inform the brain of the need for sleep.
When the level of adenosine is high during the day, it is an indication that the body is in need of rest.
During sleep, the level of adenosine drops, and it can, therefore, be suggested that blocking adenosine increases alertness and this can be achieved through sleep.
While sleeping, your body is able to carry out protein metabolism much faster than when you are awake. It has been recommended that we need at least 8 to 10 hours of sleep every day to enable our body recover properly and also rest well.
How to Get Enough Sleep
Most times, we do not get proper quality sleep, and even when we fall asleep the quality of the sleep may not likely be sufficient for our body needs. You will find some tips listed below which are very useful in getting a good nights sleep, and can help in overall body recovery.
Additional Reading: What Happens to Your Body When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep?
Avoid Oversleeping, Even When You Feel You Didn’t Sleep Enough Hours
By oversleeping, you may cause your body’s clock to set to a different cycle and the effect is that it could make it difficult for you to fall asleep again. Attempt to wake up at the same time every day and always on your first alarm. If you cannot wake up at the same exact time, wake up very near to it. Your body will understand its own sleeping “rhythm” and become programmed to sleep more efficiently.
Don’t drink alcoholic drinks close to bedtime. While many people drink alcohol to get sleepy and overcome insomnia, alcohol (along with caffeine) disrupts the body’s natural chemistry and interferes with its natural sleep process.
If you want to have quality sleep, drink tart cherry juice instead.
Exercise Will Improve Your Ability to Fall Asleep and Stay Asleep
By engaging in moderate- intense exercise during the day you will tire out and improve your efficacy of falling asleep.
This is generally not a problem for athletes as their lives are based around training often. Intense training during the late evening usually produces the opposite effect, however, and is avoidable when possible.
Take a Warm Bath at Night to Calm Your Body and Mind
One of the benefits of a warm bath is that it will help to sooth and relax your muscles. This causes an overall feeling of tiredness. Even if you are taking a warm shower or bath during the idle of the day you will become more tired, believe me!
Create a Better Sleeping Environment
Your room should be reasonably cool because humidity may cause you to have disrupted sleep.
You can relax and sleep better with a fan running or soft background music. Warm temperatures are generally more uncomfortable and difficult to sleep in, so do your best to keep your room on the cool-side!
Check Your Mattress and Replace if Necessary
The bed you sleep on can affect how you sleep at night. Consider using a good memory foam mattress to help you sleep better. If you want to achieve REM sleep, you need to be as comfortable as possible.
If your mattress is already sagging or lumpy, it may be causing you to toss and turn during the night, preventing you from getting deep sleep, which is a precursor to REM sleep.
Choose a mattress that would suit your needs and preferences, such as sleeping position and body temperature regulation. Adding a memory foam pillow to your bed can also be beneficial.
Avoid Watching Television in Bed When You Are Going to Try to Sleep Soon
By watching the television in bed, your alertness might be increased and your brain may be programmed that bedtime is for watching television and may not allow you to sleep. If possible, keep all electronics out of your room.
Cell phones are especially bad to be using in bed at night because they are overly stimulating in numerous different ways.
Make it a goal to not use any electronic devices within 15-30 minutes before heading to bed and watch the distinct difference in your nightly sleep!
Supplement with Melatonin Before Bed to Improve Your Sleep Quality
You should not rely on melatonin too much, but it certainly can help you improve your sleep quality when supplemented with. Melatonin can help you fall asleep faster, and improve your quality of sleep.
If you have not used melatonin before, you can check out my advice for the best melatonin supplement as well as additional health benefits of melatonin.
Try Any of These Additional Ideas
- Curb Your Coffee Intake at Night
- Take a Contrast Shower to Relax Your Body
- Turn Off External Distracts (cell phone, tablet, television, stereo, etc)
- Use Essential Oils that Promote Sleep
Final Thoughts – Sleep for Athletes
Sleep is essential for the overall performance of the body, and it is equally as important for physical body recovery including muscle growth. The most important period of recovery and muscle growth is the sleeping period, and it can also potentially be the most anabolic period of the day.
With growing stimulation from electronic devices and technology sleep quality has drastically declined in our society.
Insomnia and anxiety have become extremely normal and more and more people are tuning to medications and pharmacology just to receive a few hours of sleep per night.
By controlling your sleep environment and creating a positive sleeping space it is extremely possible to improve on the number of hours of sleep you get per week, allowing yourself to reduce stress and anxiety naturally.
Utilize these tips and understand that sleep is how we recharge, and without it we cannot maximize the full potential of our bodies!