How a full night’s sleep improves performance

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Whether suffering from sleep apnea, nervousness or other sleep deprivation disorders, losing a few hours of shut eye can have large impacts on your mind, body and athletic performance. Traditionally, athletes are recommended to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night, plus naps when possible. All athletes use their excess energy during the day to crank out that extra mile on their runs, or reach their personal record on a lift, so getting sleep is essential for allowing the body to achieve these goals. How sleep directly impacts your performance can be hard to notice when the adrenaline is pumping and you are faced with a competitor, but pay close attention to yourself and you will begin to notice a difference.

The science of sleep

In this modern, technology-filled world, athletes have multiple ways to track closely what they eat, how much they workout and how close they are to reaching their goals. One health-related field that is often over-looked is a record of an athlete’s amount of sleep. Dr. Charles Czeisler, the director of the division of sleep medicine at Harvard, has taken it upon himself to teach athletes and other endurance workers the importance of sleep practice. Czeisler has coached many NBA teams, NASA and the Secret Service. What he advises to all of his patients is that they take naps when tired and sleep at least seven to nine hours a night. His recommendations are simple and less medically involved than one would expect, but the reasoning behind this coaching advice is highly important.

When sleeping, every person experiences circadian cycles. These 90 to 120 minute units allow our bodies to experience the two formats of sleeping, deep sleep and rapid eye movement. During these stages of sleep your mind works to process new memories and integrates them into deep-rooted thought systems by combining them with old memories. Early on in the night we review our memories in deep sleep, and towards the morning, our REM allows our minds to adapt that learned memory to other knowledge.

The reason this particular part of sleep is so important for athletes is because each day their muscles and brains are learning new techniques of movement, strategy and training.

“Interestingly, if you don’t sleep the night after training, then even if you sleep the next night or the next night, you never learn,” Czeisler told the Atlantic.

Memories allow your body to recreate learned movements, proper sleep allows you to store these learned behaviors more properly, honing your skills. Athletes can really consider sleep an extension of their practices, because at night they are rehearsing the days activities. For athletes who compete in consecutive day events, sleeping can allow them to better anticipate their opponent’s next move because the memories of previous play are established in their minds.

Not only does athletic performance improve from memory retention, but your physical body has multiple benefits as well. While sleeping, your pituitary gland produces the human growth hormone, this hormone helps your body recover from workouts more quickly and also improves the muscles’ ability to store glycogen that will later be used as energy boosts. Sleep, especially with the assistance of massage, helps to lower cortisol (the stress hormone) levels in your body.

Some key tips to ensure you get a healthy night’s sleep include not going to bed hungry, and tracking your sleep hours to monitor athletic recovery. Knowing when and how much sleep you have can be important to understanding when you may be experiencing overtraining. Sleep the required hours and watch as your athletic performance improves.

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