By Coach Hoy, MS, CSCS, SCCC, PES, RPR1, TPI1
In a previous post I wrote about the 11 effective habits to give you better sleep. As a parent of 4, sometimes I find it very difficult to get my kids in their beds and asleep at somewhat regular or normal times. I cannot stress enough how important sleep is not only for our health, but also for improvements in fitness in sports performance.
So, in this post, I am going to provide more detailed information showing just how important sleep is to performance and fitness. (If you want some tips to sleep better, see the previous post on Sleep). I’d like to share with you some information from a few supporting articles I came across, that have evidence from research about sleep and sports performance.
Performance and Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation occurs as a result of a lack of necessary sleep. Sleep disorders, or poor sleeping habits (inconsistent schedule, exercise before going to bed, or other issues causing restless sleep) lead to chronic sleep deprivation. According to Dr. Sudhansu Chokroverty in his book “100 Q&A About Sleep and Sleep Disorders, Second Edition (100 Questions & Answers about . . .) “sleep deprivation causes fatigue; sleepiness; deterioration of performance, attention, and motivation; and diminishment of mental concentration and intellectual capacity (p. 4).”
Knowing that peak performance relies on prolonging fatigue, concentrated attention, the ability to process mentally and make quick decisions, AND requires high levels of motivation, it is no wonder that athletes who are not getting sufficient sleep are not performing either consistently at a high level or not at a high level at all (ever).
Sleep and Decreased Glucose Metabolism
In his studies, Eve Van Cauter, PhD, from the University of Chicago Medical School, found that sleep deprived individuals metabolize glucose less efficiently, and they have higher levels of cortisol (a stress hormone linked to memory impairment, age-related insulin resistance, and impaired recovery in athletics).
Because glucose and glycogen are the main energy sources for athletes (carbohydrates), any impairment of the glucose storage process (in muscle and the liver) can affect the energy needed for competition and optimal performance.
Performance Across Time Zones
A study by Mary Carskadon, PhD, of the Bradley Hasbro Children’s Research Center, not only confirmed the statements by Dr. Sudhansu, but also added that adolescent athletes who don’t get enough sleep (chronic sleep deprivation) on a regular basis are extremely impaired in the morning. This is important for athletes traveling westward across time zones to compete. The athlete from the east would be more alert at an early morning competition than the athlete from the west. To combat this, the western athlete should prepare by waking at the earlier time to get adjusted.
Sleep and Inhibited Muscle Tissue Repair
It is also noted that increased cortisol levels may interfere with muscle tissue repair and growth. Elevated levels of cortisol have been also linked to increases in hunger—you would eat more food, but the processes of breaking the food down for energy storage or tissue repair have been impaired, so this food would most likely cause unwanted, unhealthy weight gain.
Sleep and Increased Fat Storage
Some studies have even further suggested that slower glycogen issues caused by sleep deprivation may lead to higher blood insulin levels which then lead to an increase in fat storage (unhealthy weight gain). An increase in blood sugar levels may lead to adult onset diabetes (type 2).
Good News About Extra Sleep
According to a study reported in the Science Daily news, athletes who get extra sleep over an extended period of time actually improve athletic performance, mood, and alertness. The study was done using college athletes at Stanford University, with both male and female athletes. The extra sleep was a total of 10 hours each night for 6-7 weeks. As a result, the athletes were able to reduce their sleep debt and improve their performance. It is recommended not only to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night, but also to get extra sleep for several days prior to major competitions.
If it is possible, extra sleep for several weeks leading up to a major tournament, showcase event, or international competition, you should do it. You will help reduce your sleep debt and help ensure an increase in your peak athletic performance. Getting sufficient sleep (restful sleep) is a crucial element in obtaining you peak athletic performance.
A great way to make consistent improvements in your performance is to make quality sleep a priority. If you would like to track your sleep, you could check out the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index. Track your sleep using an app, or write it down and find your ideal sleep amount. As with everything, work to be disciplined and consistent.
If you have specific questions about sleep, leave a comment, and keep training with purpose!