Athletes are always looking for ways to run faster, jump farther, and throw harder. While new training techniques arise every day, it’s one of the body’s most basic biological functions—sleep—that can often give you an edge over the competition. Better sleep can enhance your performance with faster times and increased accuracy while improving your overall fitness.
Sleep Fuels Strength and Stamina
Anytime you get less than seven hours of sleep, athletic performance can suffer. Sleep-deprived athletes can struggle with fatigue, confusion, and moodiness that don’t directly affect performance. However, those issues can come back in the way of poor form, technique, and court awareness. Lack of sleep reduces the ability to concentrate and focus, which you need to make the split-second decisions of competition.
Adequate sleep, on the other hand, can take your performance to a whole new level. In 2011, Stanford’s men’s basketball team participated in a study in which athletes extended their sleep times from eight to ten hours. Their free throw and three-point field goal percentages went up by nine percent and their sprint times decreased by half a second. They also reported less fatigue and increased happiness off the court.
You may not need ten hours of sleep like an elite athlete, but the benefits of adequate sleep can’t be ignored. Sleep creates the conditions in which your body can perform as it was intended.
Rest for Better, Faster Recovery
Sleep’s benefits go beyond performance. Training causes micro-tears in the muscle tissue. The process of repairing these tiny tears builds muscle mass. It’s during sleep that the body gets to work repairing the damage.
Muscles need human growth hormone (GH) to repair and heal themselves. GH doesn’t get released until the first stage of deep sleep. You pass through this sleep stage several times throughout the night, and each time GH gets released in specific increments. However, if you cut your sleep cycle short or if you alter your sleep cycle by two or three hours, the body changes how it releases GH. Consequently, your muscles don’t spend enough time healing, and it slows down your progress and leaves you prone to injury.
Support Sleep with Good Habits
It’s not always as easy as going to bed earlier. You need healthy sleep habits that train your body how to fall and stay asleep. Be sure to:
Give yourself enough time for at least seven hours of sleep. Those going through intense training may need nine or more hours to keep up with a heavy training schedule.
Eliminate discomfort. The mattress should conform to your body and support your spine. The type of mattress that works best for you will depend on your weight and sleep style.
Eat a healthy well-balanced diet, but time it right. Meals eaten at the same time each day and at regular intervals strengthen your body’s ability to correctly time the sleep cycle. Try to keep your last meal of the day early, light, and full of nutrient-rich carbs.
Read a book instead of a screen. Blue light, like that emitted by many electronic devices, can suppress sleep hormones. Turn them off at least two hours before bed.
Get outside. The body uses sunlight to suppress sleep hormones during the day. Plenty of sun exposure helps the body maintain a predictable sleep pattern that follows the Earth’s day/night schedule.
A balanced training schedule leaves plenty of time for rest and sleep. Sleep has to be as important as your food and workout routines if you’re going to reach your fitness goals. With time, as you build healthy sleep habits, you’re sure to see the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of fully resting your body.
This article was submitted by Ellie Porter, managing editor at Sleep Help.