Post written via Tuck Sleep – a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness
Does your training regimen have what it takes to help you reach optimum performance? Obviously, a regimen includes a commitment to an intense workout schedule along with disciplined eating habits, but the truth is it takes more. There’s one factor in achieving top results that’s often forgotten—sleep. Every athlete should know that recovery is just as important as the hardest, most intense workout. Sleep is the ultimate recovery time.
Muscles Need Sleep for Recovery
Before you can build muscle, you have to tear it apart. It’s the repair of micro-tears that build the muscle you need to improve your performance. That essential repair largely takes place while you sleep. But it’s not just any sleep that leads to muscle recovery.
Several times throughout the night, the body cycles through five sleep stages. It’s not until you hit stage 3, the first of the deep sleep phases, that your body starts targeting the muscles. It’s primarily during this phase that your body releases the human growth hormone (GH) necessary for muscle repair and growth. However, sleep deprivation alters the amount and timing of its release.
Normally, the release of GH peaks during the first sleep cycle of the night and continues to be released in smaller doses during each subsequent sleep cycle. Although there is still an initial surge of GH at the onset of sleep, sleep deprivation causes the peak of GH release to come during the second sleep cycle – if you get to it. It also changes the pattern of release for the rest of the night. Deviating from the body’s regular pattern results in a slow down of muscle recovery.
To better understand the relationship between sleep deprivation and GH release, a group of researchers explored sleep timing and GH levels. After separating participants from any environmental sleep cues, participants were allowed to set their own sleep schedule. As sleep-wake cycles became random with some sleeping too little and others sleep prolonged periods in the middle of the day, the amount of GH in the blood went down. This study suggests that a consistent seven to nine hours at the appropriate time of day is essential to a full recovery.
Sleep for Injury Prevention
You need sleep for muscle recovery, but you also need it for injury prevention. In a study published in the Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics, it was found that student athletes who got less than eight hours of sleep were 1.7 times more likely to get injured during an athletic event. Muscles that haven’t fully recovered from injury or are weakened from overuse may not be strong enough to withstand the forces of athletic competition.
The mental changes that take place during sleep deprivation also put you at greater risk for injury. While you sleep, the brain gets to work cleansing itself of toxins that built up throughout the day. Also, while you sleep, the brain prunes connections and pathways to optimize the speed at which messages are sent. It’s been noted that neurons in the brain slow down their signals during sleep deprivation. Consequently, reaction times, decision-making abilities, and reasoning skills slow down, all of which can come into play during training or competitions.
A study conducted amongst college basketball players found that an extended sleep time, one that required athletes to stay in bed ten hours rather than eight, resulted in significant improvements in performance. After several weeks of extended sleep time, many aspects of the participants’ athletic performance improved. Their free throw percentage went up, reaction and sprint times became faster, and they reported less daytime sleepiness. While you may not need ten hours of sleep like these top athletes, making sure you get a full seven to nine hours could be what you need to shave seconds off a personal record.
How to Get More (and Better) Sleep
While you need the right amount of sleep, you also need high-quality sleep so you cycle through all of the sleep phases at the right times. High quality sleep starts with a proper sleep environment. Everything from the quality of your mattress to the temperature in the room can affect your ability to sleep. A room kept between 60 to 68 degrees that’s free of sound and light distractions can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.
You also want to think about the quality of the air in your bedroom. Studies have shown that good air quality results in more restful sleep and improved next-day performance. If seasonal allergies aren’t a problem for you, it might be a matter of opening your windows in the evening to ventilate your bedroom. However, others may benefit from an air purifier that removes allergens and biotoxins that naturally exist in your home.
You can also help yourself get better sleep by:
Keeping a Consistent Bedtime: The human body loves consistency. By going to bed at the same time every night, you allow your brain to adjust to your preferred schedule so it can correctly time the release of sleep hormones. It’s best if you can pair a consistent bedtime with an equally consistent wake-up time so the brain can follow a regular pattern.
Eating Smart: A well-balanced diet is a crucial part of any training program. In addition to eating healthy, you also need to eat smart. Indigestion from a heavy meal eaten before bed can keep you awake. Instead, try eating an early light dinner. Giving yourself a few hours to digest can help you sleep more soundly.
Avoiding Screens Late at Night: Televisions and smartphones can give off a bright light that suppresses sleep hormones. Try to turn them off two to three hours before bedtime to prevent a delay in the onset of sleep.
When you make time for sleep, you enable your body to run at peak efficiency. Better sleep is one of the easiest ways to get a physical and mental boost. Whether you’re looking to best a personal record or cut down on injuries, high-quality sleep can help your training.
Tuck Sleep is a community devoted to improving sleep hygiene, health and wellness through the creation and dissemination of comprehensive, unbiased, free web-based resources. Tuck has been featured on NPR, Lifehacker, Radiolab and is referenced by many colleges/universities and sleep organizations across the web.