I think it’s safe to say that sleep quality and quantity is a fundamental performance tool that is greatly under-utilised by athletes.
It’s been very well established that sleep is vital for both brain and body and plays a large role in mental and physical well-being.
Sleep loss impairs cognition, learning and memory retention, disruption of growth and repair, the metabolism of glucose and lowers the protective armoury of the immune system.
Therefore the need for sleep in an athlete’s life is a non-negotiable – it shouldn’t be an afterthought. To help us build the ultimate backed by science tool box, Walsh et al (2020) has provided us with the most up to date recommendations to get some quality ZZZ’s:
1) Night-time sleep quantity: Generally speaking, the more physiological and psychological stress you place on the body, the more sleep you may need. As a rule of thumb, general population need approx. 7-9hrs per night with athletes potentially needing more during intensive phases of training.
2) Day-time sleep quantity (naps): Sometimes getting a solid night sleep isn’t always feasible; therefore taking a nap lasting no longer than 30 minutes can supplement a poor night’s sleep and boost alertness. That being said, it’s recommended that you avoid naps IF you struggle to fall asleep at night.
3) Good sleep hygiene: I covered a whole podcast episode on this ‘Average to Elite: Supercharged Sleep’ – but here’s the cliff notes: Prior to bed, we need to have a relaxing bed time routine with a supportive sleep environment. This would include the avoidance of stimulants, large meals and alcohol before bed, not lying in bed for too long and sleeping in a room that is cool, dark and quiet.
4) Sleep and train in-line with your chronotype: Research shows that athletes are more likely to be ‘morning larks’ (morning chronotype) and would benefit more from morning sessions. However athletes who are ‘night owls’ (evening chronotype) will struggle with early morning sessions due to a later release of the sleep inducing hormone melatonin. I.e. they fall asleep later and therefore struggle with the early morning alarm. This is where naps may be beneficial. A simple work around to please everybody – don’t train super early or super late at night if possible?
5) Sleep monitors: Some caution is needed around using sleep monitors as it can increase stress and anxiety when trying to get the perfect night of sleep. Paradoxically making your sleep worse.
Even though sleep is a massive topic, research with sleep and athletic performance is still somewhat limited.
Until next time, to be continued…