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Optimising Sleep for Athletes

December 15, 2021

Optimising Sleep for Athletes

The problem with lack of sleep isn’t just that you feel more tired all day, it’s that it affects your performance, fat-loss, muscle gain and general health.

Performance

Studies have been done to investigate the differences in the performance outcomes in people who got different amounts of sleep, and people who got less sleep experienced greater perceived exertion (i.e. it felt harder), quicker time to exhaustion, and slower reaction times.

Fat-loss

Sleep deprivation not only makes us hungrier, but also makes high-calorie, hyper-palatable food, (“junk food”) more attractive to us. More specifically, brain scans show that activity in the reward centres increase more in response to junk food, when someone is sleep deprived. So whilst sleep doesn’t necessarily directly affect fat-loss, it can definitely affect your hormones and your food choices, which in-turn has a major effect on fat-loss.

Muscle Gain

Muscle gain is dependant on putting a stimulus on the muscle, and then allowing it to recover. If we skimp on sleep, we reduce both the stimulus and recovery sides of the equation, and majorly sell ourselves short in terms of muscle gain.

Health

Lack of sleep can also have a huge effect on health. In addition to the aspects already mentioned, also affected are things like memory, inflammation, testosterone levels, growth hormone levels, and immune system function.

Getting sick keeps you out of training, which means less time practising your skills, getting fitter and staking a claim for your place on the team.

 

How Much Sleep Do We Need?

Studies suggest that the required amount of sleep varies a lot between individuals but 7-9 hours is about right for most people.

 

Tips For Better Sleep

It’s not just about the amount of sleep you get. It’s also about the quality of that sleep. There are a few proven ways of improving the quality of your sleep.

1) Sleep in a Dark Room.

Make your room as dark as possible, as quiet as possible, and cool.

2) Avoid Screens

Screens like the T.V., laptops and your mobile phone emit a type of light referred to as blue light. The brain recognises this in a similar way to the sun, and since the body’s sleep-clock (or more technically, circadian rhythm) is partially controlled by exposure to sunlight, the systems that would otherwise be telling your brain it’s time to sleep, won’t do so, and you may struggle to fall asleep or your quality of sleep may suffer.

Having a cut-off time one hour before bed can help reduce this issue.

3) Have a Bedtime Routine

Why do some of us a pre-match routine? At least in part, it’s because we know that that routine puts our body and mind into the right state to undertake the task at hand. So, we know that routines can affect our mental state. The same is true when it comes to sleep.

A good sleep routine will put our body and mind into the right state to fall asleep and get into a deep sleep.

4) Have a Stimulant Cut-Off Time

Caffeine can take about 5 hours for half of it to leave your system, meaning that it could affect your sleep for even longer than that. For that reason, I’d recommend restricting coffee or other caffeine products after mid-day, in order to optimise sleep. Nicotine is another stimulant that should be avoided in the evening.

Alcohol can also have an adverse effect on sleep. Of course, it can initially make you fall asleep more quickly but as time goes on, during sleep it tends to act like a stimulant and hamper your ability to get into a deep sleep.

In recent times it has said that sleep is the best sports supplement available (and it’s free!!!)

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