Every athlete knows the amount of dedication it takes to reach their goals. Training X amount of hours a day, taking time to prepare and eat healthy meals, mentally preparing to tackle any issues that may come. All of that, combined with the everyday tasks that everyone must handle, can make it feel like there aren’t enough hours in a day. Too many times this happens and sleep becomes an after-thought.
“What sleep is for us, basically it’s a recovery process for our daytime activity,” Dr. Julia Bruene, a primary care sports medicine physician with Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush, said. “When someone is an athlete or even just sporadically exorcises they need that sleep. There have been a lot of studies that show the more you exercise the more deep sleep you should get.”
Bruene said that studies have shown that not only does sleep deprivation actively hurt any athletic ability, but deep, consistent sleep can even help improve performance from where it would be otherwise. Even every day activities outside of athletics show improvement with additional sleep.
Like most things in life, sleep and sleep patterns are not one size fits all. Everyone needs a different amount of sleep to function at peak ability, and everyone is on a different sleep schedule. Fortunately, this doesn’t need to affect the quality of sleep for anyone. Similarly, the situation around sleeping doesn’t need to be uniform. While Bruene said that sleeping with a television on in the background, for instance, can be detrimental, if it has a timer on it and will turn off there isn’t necessarily any harm. The same goes for workouts that happen at night. Everyone will need a certain amount of time to wind down, but the workout doesn’t mean sleep will be hugely affected, Bruene said.
“I usually tell people the same recommendations we have about eating we have about esercise,” Bruene said. “Finish your workout about two hours before you go to sleep so you can have your bed time routine so that you’re making your mind and body ready to go to sleep. And making that as consistent as possible.”
For those truly dedicated to preparation consistency is the key. The more a body can expect and prepare for what is coming, the better off it is. This is especially true in the days and weeks leading up to a big event. Often these events, like the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, happen so early in the morning that almost no normal sleep routine can be prepared. In this case Bruene said to start training sleep patterns like any other aspect of training. If someone typically goes to sleep at 10pm and sleeps until 7 but because of the race details they will need to be awake by 5 on race day, Bruene said to slowly start changing the sleep pattern a couple of weeks in advance. Each day go to bed a little earlier, just enough to still be tired while still moving in the right direction.
This approach is also important when traveling for a destination race. Burene said she advises everyone, especially in situations where they are traveling west, to get to the destination as early as possible. The extra few days of adjusting to the time change can make all the difference in the world.
Bruene said she doesn’t necessarily advise sleeping aids, unless prescribed by a doctor. Many things over the counter can cause grogginess in the morning and will hurt performance for early races. She also had bad news for all the night owls out there. While any sleep is a good thing, she said that typically going to sleep early and starting the day with a workout is a better plan than the reverse.
Fortunately, for the average person sleep isn’t completely measured on a night-to-night basis. For those who aren’t in a strict training program and just need proper sleep to live a generally healthy lifestyle, sleep can be banked throughout the week. Bruene said that many people who may not have the time to get the extra few hours of sleep during the week can be just fine if they carve out a little extra time on the weekends to sleep in. That sleep will carry over into the week and a few missed hours on a Wednesday isn’t the end of the world.
“I think it’s encouraging for people that have really demanding careers or hours,” Bruene said. “It’s nice to know that you can make up the difference in the sleep and counter act sleep deprivation.”