So how can something that doesn't cost anything be better than the latest protein powder or BCAA from the local supplement shop? How can something that sounds so simple be that important? How can the thing that we have all been doing to some extent since we were born be more important for recovery than anything else on my list? 

OK I will give you a few basic reasons why it is important for health reasons first. 

  1. You will live longer. There are numerous studies with correlative data showing that less than 7 hours of sleep per night increases risk of premature death by 12%.
  2. Good sleep helps with appetite. Not getting enough sleep greatly increases your bodies energy needs. More often than not bringing on sugar cravings for a quick energy fix. 
  3. Sleep helps your immune system. When we sleep our body releases a compound called cytokines. These Cytokines help fight infection and inflammation. If we don't get enough sleep we don't release enough cytokines thus our immune system is compromised.
  4. Sleep helps your memory. It does this in two ways. Firstly if you are sleep deprived you have poor concentration. There for you have trouble forming new memories to start with. Secondly while you sleep your body consolidates new memories from that day creating long term memories.
  5. Lack of sleep increases risk of : Heart disease, Diabetes, Stroke, Depression, Sleep apnea and Obesity. 
  6. Sleeping helps break down INFLAMMATION!!!. During sleep your body's Lymphatic system goes to work clearing out the metabolic waste from the day. It takes roughly 7 - 8 hours to do that. If you are chronically sleep deprived your body can't work through the process and you end up chronically inflamed.  

Now we will talk about sleep and how it affects athletic performance. All of the above points notwithstanding the following clearly illustrate just how important consistent good quality sleep is to achieving any athletic goal you may have set yourself. 

  1. Human Growth Hormone (HGH): is released in the first 2 hours of sleep. Having a consistent time when you go to bed also makes sure that your body clock (circadian rhythms) know when to release the HGH. Growth Hormone is a powerful recovery agent hence why many professional athletes over the years have been injecting themselves with it. For you to maximise your body's natural HGH production make try to get to sleep roughly the same time every night. 
  2. Injury reduction:  If you are sleep deprived cognitive function declines. It has been said sleep deprivation is akin to being drunk. Although we may think we can sing and dance better than we actually can. We all know we should drive because our reaction times are worse and coordination is poor at best. Doing this in training or on a sporting field makes your movements sloppy and opens you to injury risks greater than they normally would be. 
  3. Performance Enhancing: Studies have proven that getting regular consistent sleep is a performance enhancer. Studies have shown as much as 10% improvement when well rested over sleep deprived  individuals.
  4. Repairs INFLAMMATION. While we are asleep our bodies melatonin acting as an antioxidant helps break down oxidative stress throughout the body. 

How do we get to sleep? The catch phrase these days is called sleep hygiene basically how do we get to sleep and stay asleep? 

  1.  Try to get out of bed everyday at the same time. Waking and getting out of bed at regular times helps set your body clock and gives you rhythm to allow the body to sleep easier. 
  2. Exercise regularly. Make sure that exercise finishes around 3 hours before you normally go to bed. Post exercise you still have adrenaline and cortisol flowing through the body which makes quality sleep hard to achieve.  Exercise makes it easier to initiate sleep and deepen sleep.
  3. Don’t go to bed angry. Try to set some time aside earlier in the evening for working on your problems and setting your daily schedule so when you go to bed your mind is more at rest. 
  4. Do NOT watch TV or laptops, tablets or phones in bed. The bluelight from these devices send light signals to the brain releasing cortisol telling you to stay awake. Try to switch off at least 90 minutes to 2 hours before bedtime. Eye savers or dimers on the new tablets and phones help and there are also blue light blocker glasses that can help reduce the blue light glare that can wreak havoc on your sleep quality. 
  5. Avoid long naps during the day. Staying awake during the day helps to fall asleep at night. Naps totalling more than 30 minutes increase your chances of having trouble sleeping at night.
  6. Make sure that your bedroom is comfortable and free from light and noise. A comfortable, noise-free sleep environment will reduce the likelihood that you will wake up during the night. Noise that does not awaken you may disturb the quality of your sleep.
  7. Make sure your bedroom is at a comfortable temperature during the night. Studies suggest 18 degrees celsius seems to be the ideal temperature for sleep.  
  8. Eat regular meals and do not go to bed hungry. Avoid drinking in the evening. This will reduce those annoying midnight dashes to the toilet.  
  9. Cut down on all caffeine products especially in the afternoon. Caffeine causes an adrenaline release which many people use to avoid sleep. So it stands to reason taking it will negatively impact your ability to sleep and the quality of that sleep.  
  10. Avoid alcohol, especially in the evening. As your body is metabolising alcohol it is actually working quite hard. It does this because the body sees alcohol as poison. So it does everything in its power to metabolise it as quickly as possible. That is why when you wake after a big night drinking you will often feel tired and in need of sleep again within a couple of hours. 
  11. Keep the bedroom for sleep and sex. This helps the brain associate the bed with sleeping so it starts the process of preparing for sleep as soon as enter the bedroom and lay down.  

This is a basic introduction on the benefits of sleep. Whole careers are built on specialising on sleep. But for the most of us. knowing how beneficial sleep is can help make a few changes to help improve our sporting endeavours and also improve our overall quality of life. 

Posted on January 25, 2018 .