As an athlete, it can be difficult to juggle all the various elements that impact performance to ensure you are always at the top of your game. One of the most significant factors that influence your athletic performance during a sporting event is how much recovery time your body has had and how well-rested it is. While it may seem counterintuitive, sleep is actually one of the most important variables to consider when attempting to maximize your capabilities as it is directly linked to athletic performance. Working out and conditioning your muscles is vital, but do not become so focused on strength and conditioning that you forget to allow your body the time it needs to recover, rest, and recharge. Below is a guide on the science of how sleep impacts an athlete’s performance and helps recharge their body. That’s why it’s important to consider a therapeutic memory foam mattress that helps your body recover while you sleep.
Do Athlete’s Need More Rest?
The simple answer to this question is a resounding “yes.” Athletes put their bodies through much more rigorous activity and exertion than an average person on a consistent basis, which makes their bodies more fatigued and in need of rest than the average person. According to a 2013 Gallup poll, the average American sleeps for 6.8 hours per night, which is quite a bit shorter than the recommended eight everyone knows. Part of the reason this number is lower is that the average American is not exerting themselves physically on a consistent basis and at a consistent level. When the body does less work, it needs less time to recover. However, athletes test the limits of their bodies frequently and need more sleep in order to bridge this gap. Many believe athletes should get eight and a half to ten hours of sleep per night in order to perform at their optimal level. The amount of sleep needed will vary depending on the individual biological composition of the athlete, the sport they compete in, and the amount of exertion they experience each day. In order to make sure you are getting the rest you need, be sure to consider all of the variables that may potentially impact your unique sleep needs.
In a study conducted by Cheri Mah on collegiate swimmers, the athlete’s performance was assessed after each swim practice. The study found that, after obtaining extra sleep, athletes swam a 15-meter sprint 0.51 seconds faster, reacted 0.15 seconds quicker off the blocks, improved turn time by 0.10 seconds and increased kick strokes by 5.0 kicks. “These results begin to elucidate the importance of sleep on athletic performance and, more specifically, how sleep is a significant factor in achieving peak athletic performance,” said lead author Cheri Mah of the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory. “While this study focuses specifically on collegiate swimmers, it agrees with data from my other studies of different sports and suggests that athletes across all sports can greatly benefit from extra sleep and gain the additional competitive edge to perform at their highest level.”
Is Working Out More Important Than Sleeping?
This question does not have a simple yes or no answer; however, it also may not have the implications that immediately come to mind. As an athlete, it can be easy to focus on completing your workouts, making your body as physically capable as possible, and continually improve your own personal bests. An athlete’s intuition pushes them to place importance on those workouts, and they are extremely important, but it can be easy to fixate on the vital role of exercise and forget about how integral sleep and rest is to recovering, focusing, and gaining the clarity needed to perform as well as possible. In some cases, engaging is early morning workouts can actually cause your performance to decline due to sleep deprivation. Sleep directly impacts your physiological functioning, and sleep deprivation (which can occur from sleeping less than six hours a night on a regular basis) will hinder your ability to perform at your best. A lack of sleep is known to reduce your time to exhaustion, or the point at which you are no longer capable of engaging in an exercise. In addition, when you are tired and sleep-deprived, your workout will feel more difficult than if you are well-rested, which leads to an increase in how much exertion you feel that you are having to expend to achieve the results you want. It may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes it is better to skip the early morning workout and allow your body to get the rest it needs before you try to exercise.
The Importance of Napping
When most people picture a nap, it is either a small child sleeping during the middle of the day or an adult sleeping during the day and awakening only to be confused as to what day and year it is. These are the images that most often come to mind when imagining what a nap looks like, but imagine if you transformed that mental picture in a battery charging, or a device being plugged into a charging port. For human beings, that is exactly the science behind napping. For athletes, it is extremely important to take advantage of the benefits of naps as they will help increase your capability upon awakening. For athletes, napping is even more essential for post-workout recovery. It is not uncommon for athletes to work out multiple times throughout the day, which places a large amount of strain and stress on the body as it tries to maintain the energy levels needed to perform at its optimal capacity. Napping is a useful muscle strain recovery tactic as it gives your body the opportunity to rest and divert energy into weaker areas, which helps to prevent injury.
What Happens to the Body During Sleep
With this discussion of sleeping and rest, you may be wondering what physiological processes take place when the brain drifts off into slumber and the body fully relaxes. When you initially fall asleep, you will drop into the introductory phase of sleep, which is known as the light sleep stage. During this stage is when you may doze off, wake back up again for a few minutes, and then doze off again. During this stage, you may or may not fully fall asleep. This stage is known as the threshold stage of sleep. This type of light, in and out, sleeping is not restful enough sleep to offer your best workout recovery. However, soon after you should pass through this stage and enter the first real stage of sleep. This is not considered a deep level of sleep but will offer slightly more recovery benefits than the threshold stage. During the first phase of sleep, your heart rate will slow down, your temperature will decrease incrementally, and your bodily processes will also churn along at a slower rate. In essence, your body begins to tap gently on the brakes, and everything slows down. It will depend on each individual how long it takes before you are able to drop into the second stage of sleep, but once you do this type of sleep will be much deeper.
During the second phase of sleep, your body processes will slow down even further. As your processes continue to slow down, your body will drop into rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep), which is the deepest sleep stage. On average, it will take one to two hours before your body is able to enter the rapid eye movement sleep stage. During rapid eye movement sleep, you will begin to dream. This stage of sleep earned its moniker due to the way many individual’s eyes begin moving rapidly while they dream. During rapid eye movement sleep, your body processes may pick back up a bit. This increase in bodily processes may be an increased heart rate or a fluctuation in blood pressure, but these changes have been linked to when individuals experience vivid, memorable dreams. This sounds like it should take all night, right? The human body can experience all of these different stages of sleep within only one to two hours and then begins the process over again at light sleep and cycles through each stage again. These different sleep stages account for why sometimes you make awaken feeling refreshed, and other times you may awaken and feel exhausted. The stage at which you exit your night of sleep has a substantial impact on how you will feel upon awakening.
The Importance of a Sleep Schedule
Consistency is the main tenant of achieving long-lasting success in anything in life, and the same is true for sleep and rest. As an athlete, your body is your greatest asset, and you must be sure to put time and effort into taking care of it. One of the best ways you can maximize your performance and give yourself the best muscle recovery is to establish a set sleep schedule that will always allow you to achieve the rest you need so that your body has time to rest your muscles and mind, recover for the next day, and reenergize. If you have to be up early in the morning to begin the day, make sure you go to sleep early enough to allow yourself plenty of time to sleep and recover. If you know you will be to be up late; you will need to adjust your morning schedule accordingly. Planning your sleep schedule puts you in command of your recovery after the workout, and makes sure you never have a groggy underperforming day again.
Measurable Results of Restful Sleep
Scientific studies have improved our understanding of how to sleep and rest impact athletic performance in a tremendous way in recent history. With modern advancements, it is now possible to analyze and deconstruct a process that before remained a mystery. Below are several of measurable results restful sleep offers athletes.
- Career Longevity: Most people would not assume that getting enough sleep could lead to a longer career, but for athletes that is exactly the case. Acute injuries are what is commonly known to be career-ending, but fatigue has also been shown to shorten athletic career length. This also has a potential impact on an athlete’s income, as their athletic performance may be their work and how they support themselves. “We were shocked by how linear the relationship was,” said the principal investigator Christopher Winter, MD, medical director of the Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center in Charlottesville, Va. “It is a great reminder that sleepiness impairs performance. From a sports perspective, this is incredibly important. What this study shows is that we can use the science of sleep to predict sports performance.”
- Accuracy and Speed Improvement: Cheri Mah, the Stanford researcher mentioned above, conducted another study, but this time on a university level men’s basketball team. During this study, Cheri instructed participants to maintain their normal sleep schedule over a one month period of time to use as a baseline, then instructed them to have a seven-week extension period during which their sleep goal was ten hours per night. The results stated, “Measures of athletic performance specific to basketball were recorded after every practice including a timed sprint and shooting accuracy. Subjects demonstrated a faster-timed sprint following sleep extension. Shooting accuracy improved, with free throw percentage increasing by 9% and 3-point field goal percentage increasing by 9.2%. Improvements in specific measures of basketball performance after sleep extension indicate that optimal sleep is likely beneficial in reaching peak athletic performance.”
- Mental Clarity: Any athlete will tell you, the state of your mind has a tremendous effect on how well you will be able to perform. This is even truer when an athlete is experiencing sleep loss. Studies conducted have suggested that sleep loss not only negatively affects judgment, but also decreases motivation, memory, and learning capabilities.
- Fewer Injuries: One of the most beneficial results of getting enough sleep, is that athletes reduce the likelihood of sustaining an injury. Fatigue affects your body’s ability to react quickly. In addition to this, fatigue also negatively affects the body’s immune system, making it more susceptible to contracting an illness. Lack of sleep not only slows down your reaction time and lowers your immune system, but when you do not get enough sleep, your body cannot regenerate cells to heal injuries or repair tissue. By getting the sleep you need, you maintain better health and experience fewer injuries.
The Best Way to Ensure Restful Sleep
After examining the science behind how sleep affects athletic performance, it is clear that athletes need a sleep solution designed to meet their needs. Essentia developed the ProCor mattress specifically to address the unique needs of athletes. The ProCor mattress is a custom sleep system specific to each athlete’s individual profiles. The ProCor bed nurtures the body, allowing it to heal and recalibrate.