Pillow talk-The importance of sleep for recovery and performance

Wednesday, September 19, 2018. Author Stephen Morehen

Pillow talk-The importance of sleep for recovery and performance

Imagine that a new magic supplement emerged which promised better athletic performance, accelerated recovery, enhanced cognitive ability, a reduction in injury risk, an improvement in mood and a supercharged immune system. You would probably consider spending a pretty penny to get all these benefits, right?

Well, how about if this supplement was free, available to everyone, and relatively easy to obtain? You would undoubtedly ensure you were making the most of it, as would everyone else!

This magic supplement may not exist in pill form but it certainly exists, and you’ve hopefully taken it in the last 24 hours… it is of course sleep! In this post, we will take a look at what makes sleep so special, what factors affect our sleep, and how we can manage these factors to optimize our sleeping to ensure we are getting the best out of our beds!

Why is sleep so amaZzzing?

The American Sleep Association recommends 7-9 hours of sleep per night for adults. During this time, processes occur which help your body to recover and adapt to the stresses placed on it throughout the day.

During sleep, Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is released which stimulates the growth of muscle tissue. It also regulates your metabolism. When you’re sleeping, your muscles are relaxed, and their blood supply is increased to enable the repair of any exercise-induced damage sustained during the day.

Another hormone, prolactin, is also secreted, and this has anti-inflammatory properties. Prolactin is therefore crucial for the recovery of joints and attenuation of soreness the day after intense exercise. It should be easy to see, as research also attests, how a lack of sleep can catch up on your body and impair your recovery and performance.

While you are sleeping, you also undergo a process called consolidation. During consolidation, your brain reinforces any learning, both physical and mental, that has taken place during the day. Brain imaging research suggests that consolidation occurs as a result of “sleep spindles” which occur during light sleep. Sleep spindles are large bursts of brain activity that facilitate the development and strengthening of pathways in your brain corresponding to specific memories or movements.

Research shows that the performance of a memory task the day after it has been learned is directly proportional to the number of sleep spindles in the previous night’s sleep - more sleep equals better performance!

Athletes between the sheets

The importance of sleep for athletic performance is well documented, and many big-name sports stars have sleeping habits that others can only *dream* of.

The Los Angeles Lakers’ newest addition, LeBron James, reportedly sleeps 12 hours every night. Roger Federer follows suit, regularly getting 12 hours, while Serena Williams manages 10 hours a night. Tom Brady, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, is in bed by 9pm every night!

By establishing a healthy sleep routine, these athletes are providing a solid foundation on which they can build their training and nutritional plans. Sleep should be the first priority when looking to improve performance, the base of the pyramid so to speak.

Sleep is so highly prioritized in elite sport that Team Sky, winners of the last 4 Tours De France, actually transport their riders’ home mattresses and set them up in the team’s hotel rooms to minimize sleep disturbances. They also employ a specialist “sleep coach” to give 1-to-1 sleep consultations to their athletes - a strategy also used by Cristiano Ronaldo and his former teammates at Real Madrid!

The (sleep) deprivation nation

Considering that sleep is so incredibly restorative and essential for recovery, it is worrying to see how many Americans simply aren’t getting enough of the good stuff!

According to the American Sleep Association, over 35% of adults report that they sleep for less than the recommended 7-9 hours per night, in a typical 24 hour period.

Now that we know the importance and benefits of sleep, it’s time to think about how we can improve our sleep hygiene. Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury of a professional sleep coach or personalized orthopedic mattresses.

There are, however, free and simple steps that can be taken to optimize your sleep. These four easily-implemented changes to your routine will elicit significant changes in the quality of your shuteye. 

  1. Try to have consistent sleep and wake times every day to minimize disruptions to your circadian rhythm (your internal body-clock).
  2. Create a quiet, cool and comfortable environment in which to sleep. Ensure the room is dark and your mattress and pillows are supportive to minimize unwanted strains on your body throughout the night.
  3. Watch your caffeine consumption. One of the genes included in our DNA analysis affects the rate at which your body metabolizes caffeine and contributes to whether you are a “fast metabolizer” or a “slow metabolizer” of caffeine. The stimulating effects of caffeine will last longer in those with a CC or AC genotype of the CYP1A2 gene as the C allele is associated with slower metabolism of caffeine. If you are a slow metabolizer, then you should try to avoid caffeine in the late afternoon as the “buzz” may still be present when you try to get to sleep.
  4. Ditch the devices! Blue light emitted from the screens of mobile phones, tablets and televisions mimics daylight and tricks your body into thinking that it should be waking up rather than going to sleep. Avoid screens in the hour leading up to bedtime to ensure your body knows that it should be going to sleep. If you must use a device, then utilize the night-mode setting found on many devices;  this limits the amount of blue light displayed to you.

Try and implement these simple steps into your bedtime routines, and you will soon see improvements in your sleep quality!

Thanks for reading this article and please check out my other posts and please get in contact if you have any questions.

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