How does sleep impact your sports performance? While working with athletes I am always telling them that the little things mean a lot. That it is not just one thing you will do that will make the difference but a combination of many smaller things. One of those smaller things is sleep. Well I might argue it is not a small thing, but it is one of the first things that an athlete, especially a student athlete, lets slip. Sleep is paramount to sports performance. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Growth and repair happen while you sleep
2. Your risk of injury increases when you don’t get enough sleep
3. Reaction time, memory, and decision making are impaired
These are just a few of the reasons sleep is important. Think about you usually do when you get injured, or find your performance is less than optimal? Most likely you turn to the physical parts of your sport and try and fix something there or try and get in better shape. Well often times it is more the mental side that needs to be looked at and sleep is just one of those factors.
Many times people will say there is not enough time in the day to get everything done and that is why they don’t get as much sleep as they need. The problem is with that type of mentality that will end up always being true. However, when you get ample sleep, you end up having more energy and more energy leads to greater efficiency and heightened focus in whatever it is you are doing. It is hard to get the sleep first and trust that the time you require will take care of itself, but if you keep waiting for you to have more time before you get more sleep you will always be behind.
Now for some getting more sleep might not mean more hours, it might simply mean more quality sleep. The quality of sleep is just as important as the length. Sometimes it is also hard to get all the hours you need in one go, and then naps become very important. To help with the quality of sleep you are getting and how to feel more awake during the day without grabbing coffee here are some things to keep in mind:
- Pre sleep routine: important to have a routine around how you wind down and get your mind ready to sleep
- Post sleep routine: similar to the pre sleep routine, but in this sense how do you let yourself wake up? Do you go right for your phone first thing in the morning? Do you give yourself time to gently awake? Do you get some daylight? You should give yourself time not in bed, but after you wake up to wake up. If you wake up rushed and run out the door that is how your day is going to look. Give yourself time to wake up and not go straight to technology.
- Daylight: Very important, as it helps to produce serotonin which helps make us feel more awake. If you are feeling a little tired and can’t nap get some daylight. One note, if you are outside try and not wear sunglasses as the eyes are what pick up the light. Sunglasses make things darker.
- Darker the room the better: It is good to have a nice dark room when you sleep. Less light the better.
- Temperature: the cooler the room the better. Most of the time the consensus is around 68 degrees.
- Hydration: important to be well hydrated, but try and get well hydrated earlier in the day, and find the right cut off time to not drink anything else so you won’t be waking in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. As short as getting up can be, it does disrupt your sleep cycle.
- Get up at the same time: This is a hard one for many people, and yet it is the advice most often given. If you can getting up at the same time each day is very helpful, if you can’t then do the best you can and other strategies might need to be implemented to help you get the recovery you need.
If you are interested in more information on sleep, there is a good book, written by Nick Littlehales called Sleep: The myth of 8 hours, the power of naps, and the new plan to recharge your body and mind. He is a sleep coach to many of the top athletes and professional teams. He gives a lot of advice, and it will be up to you to see what works for you. But even if you can start adding in some of his suggestions you will be better off. I personally am still testing out some of his suggestions, especially the 90 min sleep cycle idea. Bottom line when you try things, give it time and take notes. The more you understand yourself and what you need the more power you have to get the recovery you need to the best you can be.
Any questions please feel free to reach out.