I.E. Preps writer Luke Van Ginkel
Sports athletes understand that to become a better athlete you have to work hard and give 110% effort in training, but a lot of younger athletes don’t understand that your body doesn’t grow and get stronger when you train and work out, it’s when you rest! I often see players spending multiple hours training and working out every day of the week putting tons of effort, time, and money but seeing little progress due to lack of rest and often overtraining. Athletes spend a lot of money and effort trying to rack up every possible advantage before a competition — from tubs of protein powder, to $100 compression shorts, to amino acid smoothies. Want a simpler and cheaper way? Go to bed an hour early!
It’s accepted that most athletes train year round and have to juggle a busy schedule full of school, practice, workouts, family, social life, etc. but all the effort put into getting better is in vain if athletes don’t make time for sleep and rest. Getting enough sleep is crucial for athletic performance. Studies have found that good sleep can improve speed, accuracy, and reaction time in athletes, whether you’re an Olympic athlete, a weekend warrior, or a lunch-break walker, getting enough sleep is the key to progress for a lot of reasons. Here’s why sleep is important — along with some tips on how to get more of it.
How Much Sleep Do Athletes Need?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, most people need about seven to nine hours of sleep a night. If you’re an athlete in training, that probably won’t cut it. Just as athletes need more calories than most people when they’re in training, they need more sleep, too. All the stress and grueling practices require more time to recover.
An athlete in training should sleep at least an hour extra, or about 8-10 hours per night. Almost all athletes manage this with an earlier bedtime. An afternoon nap can help also if your schedule allows it, but will not give the deep rest that overnight sleep will. Try to make 8 hours a minimum amount of rest and 10 hours a target to shoot for.
How Sleep Affects Athletic Performance
Most athletes — and people in general — underestimate the importance of sleep. Not getting enough sleep doesn’t only make you tired the next day, but it also has a big impact on what’s happening inside your body. Sleep is the time when your body repairs itself, if you don’t get enough sleep, you WILL NOT perform well.
Growth Hormone is one of biggest factors in sports performance. Growth hormone plays a major role in just about every hormone function in your body. Some of the major benefits of Growth Hormone to athletes are direct growth of bones and muscle tissue, decreased body fat, increased protein synthesis, increased energy levels, increased metabolism, increased immune system, reduced risk of muscle injury, etc. On the other hand lack of sleep can have very detrimental effects.
So what does sleep deprivation do to your game?
Decreased energy. Sleep deprivation reduces your body’s ability to store glycogen — energy that your muscles need during physical activity.
Worse decision making and reflexes. Studies have shown that athletes who don’t get enough sleep are worse at making split-second decisions and are less accurate.
Hormone changes. Not getting enough sleep can increase levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that can slow down healing, increase the risk of injuries, and worsen memory. It extremely lowers levels of growth hormone that helps repair the body. Lack of growth hormone, which is called “Growth Hormone Deficiency (GHD),” causes such symptoms as increased fat tissue, decreased muscle tissue, weakened immune system, slower metabolism, higher risk of injury in athletes, and a decreased energy and quality of life.
Slower Recovery Time. Sleep deprivation weakens your body’s ability to recover and causes your body to take a longer time to recover. As an athlete that is very detrimental because athletes need to get in as many workouts as they can and the only way to do that is by recovering quickly from workouts. It makes a huge difference if an athlete can recover quicker and get in more workouts.
So how can athletes increase Growth Hormone naturally?
The human body produces nearly all its Growth Hormone during deep overnight sleep. So to increase Growth Hormone production, simply get a good night’s rest of deep uninterrupted sleep (8-10 hours optimal). Many athletes can attest that a consistent habit of getting good rest accounts for better recovery, energy production, alertness, and well-being.
Studies have found clear evidence that increasing sleep has real benefits for athletes.
A 2011 study tracked the Stanford University basketball team for several months. Players added an average of almost two hours of sleep a night. The results? Players increased their speed by 5%. Their free throws were 9% more accurate. They had faster reflexes and felt happier. Other studies have shown similar benefits for football players and other athletes. In the extremely competitive sports scene nowadays, athletes look for any advantage they can get over there opponent. With sleep being free and having major impacts on sports performance, why cut out on your body’s natural potential?
Rest between Each Workout and Training
All too often nowadays I see people training and working out upper body one day, then a day or two later doing another upper body workout. The problem with this is that our bodies cannot recover that rapidly so by training too often our muscle fiber gets broken down and doesn’t get enough time to recover between the next workout. A lot of people don’t understand the concept of training, that we work and tear fiber so that it can rebuild bigger and stronger. So training too often will actually make your muscles broken down too much and your body won’t have enough time to recover, resulting in far less progress in training and less results. A great way to train and give your body time to recover would be taking a minimum of 3 days between each muscle group, and a minimum of 4 days for bigger muscles such as your chest, back, and legs. Here’s a simple example:
Monday: Chest and Triceps
Tuesday: Back day
Wednesday: Rest day
Friday: Odd day-muscles that don’t get worked out often(traps, abbs, calfs, forearms, serratus, etc.)
Saturday: Shoulders and Biceps
Sunday: Rest day
How to Get Better Sleep?
Often it is hard to get a good night of sleep. Even when we do fall asleep the quality of the sleep may not be sufficient. The following ways can assist in getting that good night sleep and subsequently the benefits thereof
Don’t Watch Television in Bed! This may increase alertness and keep your brain from getting a deep rest. The brain may also decide that bedtime is for television watching and refuse to sleep.
Keep a Consistent Sleep Pattern. Your body likes to naturally stay on a consistent schedule on what time to go to bed and when to wake up. I naturally wake up at 7:12 every day, almost always at exactly 7:12 or a few minutes off. Getting a constant sleep pattern will greatly improve the quality of sleep.
Don’t Sleep with Your Phone. This may sound a little bizarre to some but texting before bed can greatly disrupt sleep. It keeps you up and keeps your brain from shutting down for sleep. I can attest that it really disturbs sleep when you’re waking up to the buzz of your phone every few minutes to reply to a text.
Things that can help you fall asleep. Having a nice, cool, quiet environment should be a minimum. Having the sound of a fan on can help also. Reading while lying in bed is one of my favorite things to put me to sleep when I’m restless.
Do Not Take Sleeping Medication. Taking sleep medication can help for a short term or for an occasional aid, but taking if frequently can really mess up sleep patterns and isn’t a natural rest.
Tire yourself out. Getting lots of exercise during the day and tiring yourself out will make you tired and will make you sleep naturally better, the opposite goes for training late at night. Training near bed time and late at night will make your body and brain more anxious and will do the opposite of slowing down your body for the night.
So to wrap it up, if you’re a serious athlete or are serious about your health and fitness, you should really care about your sleep and rest. You put all this time and effort into training and getting better, why not put a little dedication to getting some sleep!