Why should athletes spend more time studying their sleep?
ZzZzZzZ! Spanish culture has their siesta, the Italians love their riposo, and Americans love to....work to the point of complete and utter exhaustion. In international sleep study analyses, statistics report that Japan and the United States sleep the least. In a fast-paced society driven by money and status, sleep is often found towards the lower end of the priority list for Americans.
Why does sleep matter?
For both athletes and non-athletes, quality sleep is just as important as eating, drinking, and breathing. Poor sleep habits can result in weakened immune systems and diminished mental health. Maintaining positive sleep habits, such as sleeping 8 hours a night and keeping a consistent sleep routine, has undeniable positive effects for the athlete.
Aesthetics: For those who have ever been on the receiving end of the sideways question, “Are you okay? You look tired,” you know all too well that the concept of beauty sleep is real. As you sport your puffy, darkened eye circles, you might walk away feeling deflated and exhausted. Somebody who is well rested will have less puffy eyes, fewer wrinkles, and a brighter complexion. Additionally, beauty sleep impacts your energy levels which directly correlates with your satisfaction with your day-to-day activities.
Build Muscle: Next time you’re working late in the office or binging on your Netflix series, you need to prioritize sleep for your muscle growth. Limited sleep will increase levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Elevated levels of cortisol can delay muscle growth. On the other hand, when we sleep, the pituitary gland releases growth hormones to produce insulin - essential for muscle repair. Simply put - Working out breaks down muscles and sleeping stimulates muscle growth. Sleep matters.
Athletic Performance: A lack of sleep can reduce an athlete’s reaction time, decrease decision making skills, and increase the likelihood of injury. Stanford University conducted a sleep study on male basketball players. Athletes that slept for 10+ hours saw positive effects: faster full-court sprints, 9% improved free throw and three-point shots, and enhanced physical and mental well-being. (Read more about sleep studies conducted on swimmers, tennis players, and soccer players)
How to Improve Sleep:
Reflecting on these sleep studies, are you ready to take steps to improve your sleep habits?
Exercise regularly: Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercise at any time of day, but not at the expense of your sleep.
Establish routines: Go to sleep and wake at the same time every day, and avoid spending more time in bed than needed. Some find that they sleep better at a consistent room temperature and level of darkness.
Establish boundaries: Use your bedroom only for sleep to strengthen the association between your bed and sleep. It may help to remove work materials, computers and televisions from your bedroom.
Worry less: Save your worries for the daytime. If persistent concerns come to mind, write them in a “worry book” so you can address those issues the next day.
Contact a professional: If you are experiencing excessive daytime sleepiness, snoring, trouble breathing, or anxiety effects, contact your health care professional for guidance.
The infamous quote, “You can sleep when you are dead,” is a poisonous mindset, for both the athlete and non-athlete. Make sure that your coaches and teammates also emphasize the benefits of quality sleep. However, it is important that you make the decision to prioritize your sleep habits. As an athlete, sometimes you have to make the difficult decisions to leave work earlier, avoid the social gathering, binge watch fewer episodes, or press snooze to prioritize your sleep.