How sleep can help your performance
Why is sleep important for recovery?
Sleep is something that we all need, however many of us over look the actual importance of sleep especially when it comes to performance. The main benefit of sleep for performance is that it improves muscle recovery via growth hormone release, which repairs muscles, bones, and helps burn body fat. Growth hormone is mainly released during Rapid Eye Movement sleep (REM), otherwise known as deep sleep. Good sleeping patterns assist your bodies natural cortisol circadian rhythms (cortisol is the stress hormone), although poor sleep can cause irregular cortisol circadian rhythms which can disrupt your sleep and the pattern continues. If cortisol is not regulated well it can impact your muscle recovery, muscle soreness, general fatigue and make you feel more tired. Good sleep increases energy use and how you utilizing glucose (carbohydrates) in the body more efficiently and effectively, which is really important when you are training and exercising at a high intensity. Sleep also improves your mood, if your feeling super chipper your going to get a lot more out of your training and be a more pleasant teammate. Putting all this together will help you train harder, for longer and more often.
How much sleep do you need?
How much you sleep depends on your age and how much physical activity you are doing. If you are a younger athlete (<18 y/o, teenagers) your going to need more sleep, than an older athlete (>25 y/o). Teenagers are going through a significant growing process which is quite taxing on the body and requires a lot of energy. Therefore it’s important that teenagers get 9 to 10 hours of sleep every night, closer to the 10 hour end if the are very active. As we age our need for sleep reduces, however, exercise volume and intensity can affect how much sleep you may need. A general rule of thumb for athletes is 8 hours plus an extra for every hour of exercise you’ve done that day. Even if you’ve done a 30 minute really hard, high intensity session, you should probably shoot for eight and a half to nine hours of sleep. Sleep quality is also very important, agruably better quality but shorter sleep can be better than poor quality long sleep. Sleep quality is difficult to track but a simple way to know whether you’ve slept well is identifying how you feel in the morning after waking up. If you jump out of bed full of energy you’ve had good quality sleep, and on the other end if you wake up feeling like you need more sleep you know your sleep quality is terrible.
A great way to improve sleep quality and quantity is to establish a bedtime routine. Getting yourself into a routine and setting up night time habits can have a profound effect on your sleep. The good thing is that you don’t have to pay anything to improve your sleep.
Here’s a simple routine you can follow;
- Go to bed before 11 p.m. – Around 11pm your cortisol circadian rhythms increase if your still awake (this is how you can stay awake at night). As mentioned before you should be trying to limit cortisol to help improve sleep quality.
- Sleep in pitch black and cool room – Light (sunlight in particular) keeps us awake, so reduce the amount of light your exposed to while you sleep. A cool room helps you feel comfortable and relax.
- Avoid having coffee/caffine after 12pm – Caffine is a stimulant which keeps you awake and makes it hard for your brain to switch off during rest. Everyone metabolises caffine diffrently so it may affect you more than other people.
- Turning off all electrical stimulants one hour before bed. Shut down the phone, turn off the TV, try and reduce the amount of light that you’re getting exposed to. You can use blue light filters or orange hue on your phone and computer screens to reduce the amount of blue light your exposed too (blue light keeps you awake).
- Foam roll/stretch – Add a little bit of low stimulation work 10-15 minutes before bed, foam rolling, massage, light stretching all work well. The pressure of the foam roller on your muscles can help trigger the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) which helps you switch off.
- Have a hot or cold shower – This is seasonal, have a nice warm shower before bed in winter, and you have nice cold showers before bed in summer. Having a shower can help you relax and switch off.
Sleep is a low hanging fruit, in regards to recovery. Sleep is free, simple and necessary, there are studies showing that sleep deprivation is the equivalent of being drunk. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to be drunk and play sport, but it doesn’t go well. Good night.