I can never, ever, ever understand when I come across peeps that compromise sleep for other things. Like no sleep during exam period? Or no sleep ‘cos you were out late on a school night? I mean, how vital is sleep to us… and is it any more vital when you’re active or class yourself as an athlete?
Does Sleep Affect Your Training
Studies have shown that athletes who sleep longer perform better, especially if they increase their sleep in the run up to a competition or event. And it’s true. I posed the question to everyone on Instagram – how important is sleep to you and how does it affect your training – and one of my (pro) rugby playing friends shared that when he’s playing rugby he always has 8 hours sleep per night by being in bed by 9pm and when he had less, it made a huge difference to his performance. And he’s not the only one; one cycling buddy told me that she needs 8 hours to function and train properly and she gets the zzz’s by getting to bed early and then getting up early (I presume to fit some of those miles in!).
And you know why sleep is so important? It’s because sleep repairs the muscles and promotes muscle growth, whilst enabling your body to rest and recover. What’s the point of putting in all the hours of training if you then don’t nail the sleep thing to reap the benefits? And I bet you make sure your GPS is fully charged as part of your race prep 😉
How Vital Is Sleep To Me
If there is one thing I know about myself, it’s how sleep affects me. Firstly, I know that I need a good 8 hours undisturbed to wake up feeling fresh. The minimum that I can function on is 5-6 hours, and by function I mean I will get through the day but not in the best shape!
There are so many other factors that go into a good night’s sleep for me though. Starting with my bed and mattress. Although I can probably sleep on anything, I’d always opt for a good quality mattress; one that’s a bit firmer but still moulds to your body, y’know. Next up, I’m super fussy about what pillow I have. It has to be thick enough to fit between my shoulder, neck and head to keep my spine perfectly aligned so I don’t wake up feeling achey the next day.
And then I have this thing about being woken up. Any disturbance for me affects the quality of my sleep and how I feel when I wake up to go about my day. But it’s worth remembering that the optimal amount of sleep is individual to you…
The Power Of A Nap
Naps are game changers for me. I discovered them while doing my G.C.S.E exams. I’d have one exam in the morning, a nap, lunch and then an exam in the afternoon. I’m convinced it helped me to get good grades and I’m sure I heard somewhere that sleeping / naps help your brain to retain information.
Since working in the fitness industry, I’ve found naps to be invaluable. After a 5am alarm and teaching two Lift classes on a Thursday morning, 99% of the time I head back home and take a 1.5 – 2 hour nap which energises me to start the day all over again!
Other Tips If You Struggle Getting Enough ZZZZ’s
Basically, preparation is everything. Limit your caffeine intake post 3pm, put down the mobile phone / iPad, turn off the TV, put some fresh bed clothes on and spritz them with some pillow spray. Last but not least, pop some chilled out music on and read a chapter of a book (‘cos when was the last time you did that?!).
Let Me Leave You With Some Science
Ever found you can’t sleep the night before your race or event? Well, sleep disturbance the night before competition is quite common. Research has even shown that athletes in individual sports have more sleep problems than athletes in team sports.
There are three main areas that can be affected by a lack of sleep:
- A consistent lack of sleep has been shown to reduce cardiovascular performance by 11% in addition to overall physical performance
- Sleep deprivation has a variant effect on cognitive performance which includes attention, memory and decision-making, among other processes.
- Metabolic or Hormonal. Sleep is essential for the cellular, organic and systemic functions of an organism and its absence is potentially harmful to glucose regulation and some hormonal axes.
This scientific bit was all sourced from the European Journal of Sports Medicine (see footer for full reference).
What else feels as good as sleep after a stressful day or an all-out training session?