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How Sleep Impacts Athletic Performance

The subject of sleep seems elementary, but it is important to understand just how crucial it is to athletic performance. Quality sleep, in fact, is as essential to survival as food and water.

Let me elaborate on why this statement about quality sleep is not an exaggeration.

There was a study done on individuals who work a graveyard shift (overnight shift) for a prolonged part of their lives (think 10+ years). The study shows that these individuals are 80x more likely to get brain cancer.

Although that may be an extreme example, it gives you an idea of just how crucial quality sleep is for human beings.

Still think that first statement is an exaggeration? Check this out:

“Sleep affects almost every type of tissue and system in the body – from the brain, heart, and lungs to metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance.”

– National Institution of Neurological Disorders & Stroke

Now that the importance of sleep is understood, let’s take a look at how we can measure sleep quality. Let’s start by looking at and understanding the 4 different stages of sleep:

  1. Non-REM Sleep Stage 1

  • Transition from awake to sleep

  • Lasts 5-10min

2. Non-REM Sleep Stage 2

  • Body temperature and heart rate decrease

  • Brain begins to produce sleep waves

  • Lasts ~20min

3. Non-REM Sleep Stage 3

  • Muscles Relax

  • Deepest sleep occurs

3. REM Sleep

  • Brain is more active

  • Dream occur

  • Eyes move rapidly

Most time is spent in light sleep (Non-REM Sleep Stage 2). The most beneficial stage of sleep is Non-REM Sleep Stage 3 (deep sleep). Deep sleep is the most restorative of all stages of sleep. During this stage of sleep, human growth hormone (HGH) is released and works to restore and rebuild your body and muscles from the stresses of the day.

Multiple studies have shown that increased sleep (up to 10hr) improves reaction time and speed for many sports.

So not only is sleep crucial for the health of our bodies, it is also crucial for peak athletic performance. Someone who sleeps for 5 hours is going to be less physically prepared than someone who sleeps for 8 hours. It is difficult to benefit from deep sleep if you don’t spend much time there!! Even on a full 8 hours of sleep, only a proportion (~20%) of that time is spent in deep sleep, keep that in mind next time you think 5 hours is enough.

If there’s one point that needs to be known, it is that high quality sleep is not something that should be taken lightly. You may ask, what determines a high quality sleep night?

High quality sleep for most adults means uninterrupted sleep for 7-9 hours each night. In a world full of distractions, it is easy to neglect your quality of sleep.

Here are some tips for getting deeper, quality sleep:

  1. Put down your phone/TV/any electronics 1 hour before bed

Removing bright light will help ready the body for sleep cycle.

2. Stick to a similar bedtime every night

Keeping a consistent pattern for your body helps it stay in alignment and find the right cycle night after night.

3. Find the right room temperature

Science and physiology agree that 67 degrees Fahrenheit is just right for the body.

4. No big meals or workouts too close to bedtime

This disrupts sleep, thus, decreasing the amount of deep sleep we get. Safe rule of thumb would no big meals or workouts 2 hours before bed.

5. De-Stress

Calming your mind and body will give you a higher chance at a better night’s rest.

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