SLEEP – WHY DO WE NOT GET ENOUGH OF IT?
Sleep is a fundamental need and an essential component of our health and well-being. Lack of sleep has a significant impact on many aspects of our day and chronic sleep issues can play havoc with our health and stop us performing to our potential. Research has clearly shown that sleep extension (sleeping for longer with improved sleep quality) is associated with improved performance and reaction times. Sleep optimization can have a significant influence on performance across a range of athletic activities and can reduce the risk of injury and illness as well as optimize your health and enhance your performance.
Current research only scratches the surface on how sleep influences athlete health. With all this knowledge – that sleep is one of the best performance enhancers we have at our disposal – why is it that most athletes and in particular student athletes simply do not get enough sleep?
How much sleep do you need?
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine states that adults require between 7 and 9 hours of sleep for optimal performance and health, while adolescents ideally should have between 8 and 10 hours. Athletes may require more sleep than less active individuals and it has been suggested that this could be between 9 and 10 hours. How much sleep you need to function at your best can vary a lot between different individuals and is often dependent on what you do during your typical day. Athletes can often be unaware that they even have a sleep issue. One person might sleep between 8 and 9 hours a day but have a disturbed, unproductive sleep. Another athlete might only sleep 7 hours but have a sound high quality sleep. Sleep duration should not be looked at in isolation – the quality of sleep is also very important.
The American College Health Association’s annual National College Health Assessment (NCHA) surveyed 14,134 collegiate athletes at NCAA member institutions. Of these 61% reported daytime fatigue at least three or more days in the past week, and others reported consistent or more serious sleep difficulties. It is very clear that sleep and lack of it is definitely a major issue.
Why is sleep important for athletes?
I really can’t say it enough. I don’t think people really pay enough attention to how important sleep is – Michael Phelps
Many very successful elite athletes have been very vocal about their sleep regimes. Roger Federer gets an average of 11-12 hours sleep and credits this as a key reason for his longevity in his sport. Usain Bolt sleeps between 8 and 10 hours per night. Tom Brady sticks to a 9pm – 6am sleep schedule clocking in 9 hours of high quality sleep. Serena Williams has said that she requires consistent, restful sleep, in order to perform her best. When he was training, Michael Phelps slept eight hours a night and took a 2-3 hour nap during the afternoon. It is not only the hours, but the quality and sleep hygiene regime that is important.
Sleep is important for everyone; but in the case of the athlete it may be that they need more recovery and more sleep as they push their bodies through intensive training and competition.
A bad night’s sleep can leave us irritable, tired and has a significant effect on how we perform. A good night’s sleep and a consistent sleep routine is important for:-
- Repairing wear and tear after training/exercise/competition
- Managing our energy stores
- Decision making
- Focus and concentration
- Physical health
- Mental health
- Learning and memory
- A healthy immune system
- Our cardiovascular health
Better sleep reduces the risk of injury and illness, optimizes health and can enhance performance.
Sleep deprivation affects your performance and more
Chronic lack of sleep has been associated with increased sports injuries in adolescent athletes. A 2014 study showed that adolescent athletes who slept on average <8 hours per night were 1.7 more likely to have had an injury compared with athletes who slept for ≥8 hours. In a study of middle and high school athletes, Milewski et al. found that those individuals who slept less than 8 h per night on average were 70% more likely to report an injury than those who slept more than 8 h. Insufficient sleep and sleep disturbances can affect many aspects of your performance and well-being and lead to:-
- Delayed reaction times
- Increased perceived effort
- Physical health issues
- Mental health issues, anxiety, stress and depression
- Reduced cognitive performance
- Reduced athletic performance
- Injury and/or illness
- Reduced academic performance
Barriers to Sleep for Athletes
The elite-athlete lifestyle usually includes high intensity training, frequent travel, busy schedules as well as the pressures of competition. The student athlete has to cope with academic pressures along with the demands of their sport. These can lead to potential barriers to sleep and mitigate the chances of a consistent sleep schedule.
How to encourage better sleep with your athletes
Quality sleep should be a key component of any elite athlete’s routine – it is akin to a foundation block on which everything else rests on. The good news is that an athlete can train themselves to improve their sleep if they have less than ideal sleep routines. This is one of the key ways in which performance can be improved. Research with 26 elite female athletes showed that a single one-hour session of sleep hygiene education resulted in a significant improvement in total sleep time and wake variance. This research shows that educating your athletes on sleep hygiene can help promote improvement and thereby better performance.
Improving your sleep hygiene
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
Improving your athletic performance may be as simple as getting more shut-eye.
Practice does not make perfect. It is practice, followed by a night of sleep, that leads to perfection ― Matthew Walker
Knowledge is power
A great first step with any team is getting a clear overview of the health and well-being of your team across a wide range of areas including sleep. Metrifit’s new lifestyle profiling survey is a simple and effective way to get an initial baseline of where your athletes are at and helps educate and inform to help you help your team to make lifestyle changes that can have a huge effect on their performance. Using validated questionnaires, this new survey produces a detailed individual PDF for each athlete, with educational infographics and latest research information while providing coaches and staff with a detailed overview of the team and the main issues that should be addressed.
It is impossible to measure what you can’t see, and some athletes are exceptionally good at hiding how they really feel. Looking at the ‘small picture’ of an athlete’s daily habits, shapes the ‘big picture’ of match day performance. Metrifit provides a simple and effective method for athletes to record their mood as part of its athlete monitoring package. Metrifit’s daily traffic light report will indicate what issues athletes are having and who warrants a follow up. The analytics provided by Metrifit will also look for deviation from normal patterns at the individual level across many variables including sleep and stress.
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