Why Sleep Is So Important

“Sleep is an incredibly important component for learning, development, both physical and mental health, and athletic performance. Inadequate sleep, or poor sleep quality, can lead to decreases in athletic performance, reduction in learning and cognition, decreased immune function and metabolic disturbances.”

Sleep is an athletes secret weapon

Why Is Sleep Important?

Sleep disturbance, being lack of sleep or poor sleep quality, is something seen commonly in the athletic population, often due to training load, competition schedules, travel, stress and fatigue. Also, athletes have often been seen to undervalue sleep, instead prioritising training, work and socialising.

Sleep is an incredibly important component for learning, development, both physical and mental health, and athletic performance. Inadequate sleep, or poor sleep quality, can lead to decreases in athletic performance, reduction in learning and cognition, decreased immune function and metabolic disturbances (alterations to carbohydrate metabolism, appetite, cravings and protein synthesis). Sleep is also a fundamental part of recovery and adaptation to training, whilst also both reducing the risk of injury and illness. So, if we are talking about the optimization of athletic performance, both in training and competition, sleep should be at the forefront alongside an individualised nutrition plan. Improvements in both sleep quality and duration have been seen to improve reaction time, accuracy, and in endurance, power and strength performance. To further this point, studies have found that athletes who are obtaining adequate sleep durations and implement techniques to improve their sleep quality, are seeing greater competitive successes than those who are not. 

As we have established the importance of sleep and its implications on performance, health and well-being, it is recommended to both monitor our sleeping patterns and begin implementing techniques to improve sleep quality. Mental health is a component that also should not be overlooked, with the management of mental health issues being critical to helping with the improvement sleep, and physical health and performance.

How much sleep do I need?

Quality sleep can be broken up into two parts, sleep duration and sleep quality. In terms of sleep duration, for optimal performance and health, it is recommended that adults obtain between 7 to 9 hours of sleep, and adolescents even more needing between 8 to 10 hours.  The adult athletic population, with heavy training schedules, may require more sleep of between 9 to 10 hours. Sleep quality is equally as important and can be aided by the tips below.

Tips to improve sleep quality

– Create a sleep routine, attempt to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.

– Avoid eating large meals before bed, aim to eat your last meal around 2-hours prior to bed.

– Create a cool, quiet and dark space to help fall asleep and allow light into this space in the morning to help with the waking process.

– Obtain sunlight exposure in the morning and during the day to help regulate your sleep-wake cycle (aka circadian rhythm).

– Avoid the use of phones, watching TV or using the computer in bed.

– Avoid or reduce caffeine 4-5 hour prior to bed (if possible)

– Avoid sleep aids (pills, alcohol etc) as they are a sedative and prevent the restorative component of sleep.

– Mediation or Mindfulness practices daily.

– CBD oil use can also help in improving sleep quality.

*Napping (no more than 30 minutes) can benefit those experiencing sleep loss or who have disturbed sleep patterns due to training BUT should not act as a replacement.

If you would like to learn more about sleep as it relates to performance, listen to this episode of The Fight Science Podcast with sleep and performance expert Dr. Ian Dunican.

Jack Doherty – TFD Dietitian

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