There are a number of areas that athletes have to focus their attention in order to achieve optimal performance. Conditioning, mental preparation, hydration, and nutrition are all big parts of a well-rounded training program. Sleep for athletes is the factor most often overlooked. Rest and recovery are crucial parts of optimizing athletic performance.
Sleep Like an Olympian
The U.S. Olympic Training Center has gone so far as to install blackout curtains and instruct athletes on pre-sleep rituals to ensure ideal resting conditions. It is common to think that an athlete would have a nutritionist, trainer or even a personal chef. Having a sleep expert around can also make a difference.
Mark Rosekind, Ph.D., a former NASA scientist, board member for the National Sleep Foundation, and President of Alertness Solutions, evaluated athlete’s sleep environments prior to the Winter Olympics in Torino. Rosekind has been advising athletes and coaches at U.S. Olympic Training Center for years. This sleep expert has the job of making adjustments to ensure ideal conditions because sleep is seriously that important.
Sleep improves reaction times
Staying awake for 22 hours straight can reduce reaction times and coordination by the same margin as more than four alcoholic drinks for the average person. You wouldn’t have four drinks and try to train or compete, so why would you perform sleep deprived? Many sports only provide athletes a fraction of a second to react to whatever is happening on the field, court, mat or where they play. Impaired cognitive and motor performance takes away that small window of time athletes have to make the proper decision to react.
Injury Rates Reduced with Sleep
A 2014 study found that young athletes getting less than six hours a sleep a night were 1.7 times more likely to sustain a sports-related injury. There are several reasons this could be true. As previously mentioned, reaction time is compromised when an athlete is sleep deprived. This is also true for cognitive and motor functions. A second of hesitation from a baseball player could be the difference in hitting a ball or getting hit with a ball. When an athlete is sleep deprived, coordination is less than ideal, which easily translates to become more injury prone.
Sleep Lets You Stay in the Game Longer
Achieving an adequate amount of sleep is linked to better performance and a greater capacity to heal. Muscle tissue repair takes place overnight when all the body has to do is breathe and recover. If muscles are not given adequate time to recover, you can bet they are not going to continue to maintain a high level of performance. It is unreasonable to expect the body to keep working without sufficient rest in between workouts. Sleep for athletes is not the only factor for proper post-workout recovery, but it is one that can not be ignored. Performance suffers when an athlete is injured or consistently sore. Inability to keep up with a certain performance level will certainly shorten a career.
Fewer Mental Errors Made with Sleep
When the body is truly exhausted it can seem like there is a fog surrounding the brain. This clouds judgment and can make even simple tasks seem difficult. A football player has to be able to recall a play and execute without hesitation or confusion. Lack of sleep can hinder this ability, putting the whole team at a disadvantage. In individual sports like MMA or boxing, slipping the wrong way to avoid a punch could be a game changer. Focus is absolutely necessary.
Better, Faster and Stronger with Sleep
A 2011 study looked at the Stanford University men’s basketball team and found that when players increased their sleep, their actual statistics improved. Shooting accuracy went up by 9 percent overall. Similar results were noted for tennis, swimming and running. Giving the body time to recover is important for achieving and exceeding performance goals. Proper sleep for athletes can make a big difference when the separation between first and second place could be a fraction of a second.
Quick Tips for Better Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene does not mean how clean your sheets and pajamas are, although that could play a part. The National Sleep Foundation defines sleep hygiene as “A variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.” Practicing good sleep hygiene could greatly impact your quality of sleep.
- Napping: Sleeping 20-30 minutes is ideal for waking up in a better mood, more alert and able to perform better.
- Avoid Stimulants: Obviously, caffeine close to bed is a bad idea, but how close is unique to each person. The general recommendation is no caffeine after 4:00 pm. Sugar intake should also be a consideration.
- Environment: Blackout curtains, white noise machines, and a comfortable sleeping surface can make a big difference in how fast you are able to fall asleep and remain asleep.
- CBD oil: Going natural with CBD oil for sleep may aid in relaxation in a safe way to take the edge off without the downsides of unnatural sleep aids.
- Routine: Developing a pre-sleep ritual can help to put the body and mind into sleep mode before even hitting the sheets. This is also helpful when traveling so that even if you are in a different place, your body knows when it is time to enter sleep mode.
Increase Performance with Sleep for Athletes
The old saying “you snooze, you lose,” has been undoubtedly debunked. Athletes at the highest levels of competition are beginning to truly understand the importance of sleep for optimal athletic performance. Turn out the lights early tonight and up your game like the pros!