SLEEP: The Key to a Quick Recovery

Do you want to boost your athletic performance? Reduce your risk for injury? Improve your reaction time, accuracy and speed? The secret is easier than you think, and doesn’t cost a single cent. Yet, most young athletes often neglect this essential component of their training: SLEEP! Sleep is a vital component of the recovery process following intense training and competition. It provides both psychological and physiologically benefits. However, sleep deprivation is very common in young athletes due to extensive training schedules, anxiety, lack of awareness of the importance of sleep and poor sleep hygiene. Why is catching enough z’s so important and what can you do to ensure a better quality sleep?

Most athletes are well aware of the benefits of proper nutrition, skill training and conditioning to improve athletic performance. So what exactly happens while you’re sleeping that is so important? The body regenerates and repairs cells, and allows restoration of several systems such as the immune, nervous and endocrine system. It also releases hormones that help with recovery. Certain hormones such as growth hormone and androgens are only released during the deep sleep cycle and they are vital for muscle repair, muscle building and bone growth. Therefore, the quality of sleep you’re getting is just as important as the quantity.

Sleep deprivation can lead to a number of detrimental effects on your athletic performance (decreased reaction time, speed and strength), cognitive function (poor attention, concentration and motivation) and risk for injury (compromised immune function, impaired muscle damage repair). Studies have shown, even a single night of sleep deprivation can impair your cognitive and motor performance equivalent to alcohol intoxication.

Current guidelines recommend that 7-9 hours of sleep is essential for psychological (ability to learn, motivation, and memory) and physiological recovery (metabolism and inflammation). Moreover, athletes require an even greater quantity of sleep to recover from injury and intense training. If you’ve struggled with getting enough sleep, read the strategies below for some tips on how you can change your sleep habits:

  • Avoid stimulating activities prior to sleep and limit electronic device use at least 1 hour prior to bedtime;
  • The optimal sleeping environment should be cool, comfortable, noise-free and dark (to achieve these conditions you may need to use a fan, eye mask, ear plugs, light blocking blinds, white noise machine or app);
  • Keep daytime napping to a maximum of 30 minutes;
  • Limit exposure to bright lights in the late evening, as they can have an alerting effect and decrease the release of melatonin. (i.e., dim the lights, and limit LED screen use several hours before bed);
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening;
  • Stick with a consistent time for going to sleep and waking up.

Marshall et al., (2016). The importance of Sleep for Athletic Performance. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 38,1,61-68.