Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day – Mother Nature’s best effort yet at contra-death
– Why we sleep by Matthew Walker
The role of sleep in the promotion of athletic development and performance is well understood. Sleep is essential for all individuals; however, athletes may require more sleep than non-athletes in order to recover from and prepare for high intensity training. Despite this, research suggests the prevalence of poor sleep quality, from adolescence to adulthood, is substantial. A study from the Australian Institute of Sport found athletes perceived sleep as the biggest cause of fatigue and tiredness. Evidently, there is a requirement to increase sleep hygiene education amongst athletic populations.
Although seemingly unconscious, sleep is not just the absence of wakefulness. It is an active process, composed of 5 stages: Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) 1, 2, 3, 4 and Rapid Eye Movement (REM). Each of these stages has specific functions, including but not limited to:
- The Recovery Process (Restoration & rebuilding of the muscle and brain)
- Skill Development (The learning of complex motor tasks)
- Removal of waste products from the body
- Increase immunity and fight infection
- Consolidate memories
Sleep and Performance
Advancements in technology in sport are consistently ongoing as teams and individuals alike seek the “marginal or 1% gains” over competitors. Regardless, of the technology it is unlikely that any advancements will have as great an impact as adequate sleep.
A study carried out by Cheri Mah, Kenneth Mah, Eric Kezirian and William Dement on the Stanford University male’s basketball team assessed the effects of sleep extension on athletic performance. The study saw players follow a normal routine of six to nine hours sleep for two to four weeks, and for the next five to seven weeks, increase their sleep to ten hours. The findings revealed that sprint times were reduced from 16.2 seconds to 15.5 seconds, while their shooting accuracy improved by 9%. Fatigue levels decreased, and overall ratings of physical and mental well-being increased with extended sleep.
Dr Charles Czeisler, the Director of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard, sums up the importance of sleep with this great quote:-
Asking athletes to play on minimal sleep is the same as asking them to “play with one hand tied behind their back … It’s making them do something we know degrades their reaction time, their ability to take in their training, to get the most benefit out of it. They spend all this time practicing but never get to sleep
Sleep and Injury
Recent evidence suggests training availability is a primary determinant of success in sport, with injuries and illnesses representing the greatest challenge to participation. Furthermore, multiple studies show strong associations between insufficient sleep and an increase in the probability of injury. A large study of 340 young elite athletes reported that when a minimum of 8 hours of sleep was obtained, the risk of injury reduced by 61%. A 2014 study by Milewski also found athletes who slept less than 8 hours per night had a 1.7% greater likelihood of getting injured than athletes who slept greater than 8 hours.
Sleep, learning and memory
Sleep (particularly NREM 2) appears to be crucial for the successful learning of complex motor tasks. During periods where complex motor tasks are being acquired (for example in the learning of a new movement pattern, skill, or technique), there may be an increase in light sleep and specifically NREM 2. Sleep also appears to be integral in the consolidation of new memories. Boyce showed a causal role of REM sleep (the period where it is common to see individuals’ eyes flickering) in the consolidation of memories.
Sleep and Nutrition
The relationship between sleep and nutrition is important and multi-faceted. Poorer nutritional choices can impact sleep quality and duration, and likewise poor sleep quality and duration can negatively impact on nutritional choices. Research by Van Cauter found that those who slept less had bigger appetites due to the fact their leptin levels (an appetite regulating hormone) fell, causing an increase in appetite.
Sleep Hygiene Recommendations
Getting enough sleep just doesn’t happen overnight. If you have bad habits regarding sleep hygiene you need to work on them and commit to change. Some recommendations to improve your sleep include:-
- Avoid stimulants at least 6 hours before bedtime
- Switch off devices
- Avoid obsessive clock watching
- Avoid excessive food and liquid late at night
- Use beds for sleep – if you cannot sleep get out of bed for a while
- Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and comfortable
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule
- Avoid sleep naps if you are having trouble falling asleep at night
- Seek out bright light in the morning but avoid in the evening
Sleep is food for the brain
Sleep is fuel for exercise
Sleep is simply not valued in our 24/7 society
We treat it as a luxury and it’s a necessity
If you sleep longer and better, you can be a better athlete overnight
– Dr. James B. Maas
What is Metrifit?
Metrifit promotes authentic conversations and learning regarding sleep, stress, nutrition and other key factors that can prove immeasurable to both coaches and athletes. In the modern sporting world, the gap between winning and losing can come down to fractions of seconds, millimeters, or squeezing out that last ounce of energy. Data on all aspects of an athlete’s preparation is of significant value. If a coach can keep track of how an athlete is reacting to training, how they are sleeping, how they are eating and what their mood or stress levels are, they can make decisions based on that information that might just give them the edge they need. To find out more about the Metrifit Ready to Perform product and gain insight on the physical and mental state of your athletes through our daily wellbeing questionnaire contact us at .
About the author
Michael is a Sport Science student intrigued by understanding the variables and key determinants that impact an individual’s (athlete or general population) readiness to perform from both a psychological and a physiological standpoint. His primary areas of research revolve around physical development and the role of nutrition, sleep and stress in physical development. Michael works in multiple strength and conditioning environments from Rugby to Soccer to GAA, and also runs an online coaching service at Synthesize Coaching.
Nutritionist, Wexford Camogie
Head Strength and Conditioning Co-ordinator,Noblesville High School
Head Basketball Coach, Carmel High School
CEO, Shift Performance, Miami
"When COVID altered college athletics as we knew it, Metrifit came to the rescue. This intuitive athlete monitoring, health and well-being system provides the athlete, coach, and sports medicine staff a way to monitor and balance the physical, emotional, health and well-being of our athlete’s. Metrifit provided that calm in the middle of the perfect storm for our entire athletic department for the future. Thank you to the entire Metrifit family for assisting our department with a seamless process."
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