Want to perform better, run stronger or faster? Sleep more! Researchers have found links between the amounts of sleep one gets and their athletic performance. Sleep deprivation affects all levels of athletes. Researchers at Stanford have found that as “little as 20 hours of sleep deprivation” negatively affects performance, especially for a power sport like running.
Why is sleep so important?
Researchers believe that sleep is a contributing factor to improved athletic performance because this is the time when growth hormone is released throughout the body. This is key because growth hormones stimulate muscle growth and repair, bone building and fat burning, and helps athletes recover. If you are deprived of sleep, your body slows the release of the growth hormone.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
Sleep experts recommend seven to nine hours of daily sleep for adults. However, everyone is different. To figure out your optimal sleep needs, monitor your sleep over a few weeks. If you fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed and wake up without an alarm, you are probably getting the right amount of sleep. If you fall asleep immediately upon hitting the pillow and always need an alarm to wake up, you are probably sleep deprived.
The good news for most us is that one sleepless night won’t have long-term negative effects on performance. So, don't worry if you toss and turn the night before a big race. One sleepless night is unlikely to hurt your performance.
Tips for how to sleep better:
- Turn off your computer, tv, kindle and close your eyes - the blue ligh from tech devices tricks your mind into thinking it's day. Turn everything off at least 30 minutes before your bedtime.
- Use an eye mask - cuts out all light so your brain isn't tricked into thinking it's daytime.
- Don’t eat before bed - give your body 2 hours to digest food before going to bed.
- Sip herbal tea before bed - Up the sleep-inducing power by choosing herbs that have relaxing properties, like chamomile and mint.
- Exercise regularly - Studies show that exercise helps reduce anxiety.
- Work out in the morning – Exercising boots your adrenaline which will keep you up at night. Schedule your workouts at least 2 hrs before going to bed.
How to Use Sleep to Improve Sports Performance
- Make sleep a priority in your training schedule.
- Increase your nightly sleep time several weeks before a race
- Go to bed and wake up at the same times every day for a few weeks before a race.
- Take a weekend nap if you don't get enough sleep each night.