How important is Sleep for Athletes?

Athletes put in a lot of work to win – from rigorous training routines to strict diets. But one single thing they can overlook is going to bed an hour early to get enough sleep.

Sleep is very necessary for learning, performance, development, and physical and mental well-being. Some of the results of sleep deprivation include a reduction in performance, mood swings, increase in risk-taking behavior, and clumsy driving. 

With over 40 percent of people getting less than the ideal amount of sleep per night, it’s easy to understand why sleep is such an important topic among medical practitioners and sports scientists. 

Insufficient sleep has been shown to cause serious health conditions such as weight gain, increased risk of getting a stroke, and other sicknesses. Also, research shows that sleep quality can have a major impact on active performance.

Some professional athletes confessed that they need to sleep 10-12 hours a night to perform at their highest level. It has been shown that student-athletes that sleep for less than eight hours are two times more likely to get injured.

Sleep deprivation can decrease reaction time, performance in the gym, decision-making ability, learning, alertness, and memory. Sleep loss can also lower the function of the immune system and a decrease in the release of growth hormone, and the hormones adiponectin and leptin – both of which are crucial in fat loss and gain.

How much sleep should athletes get?

A lot of people need about 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Athletes undergoing hard training such as working out in the gym may require more. The same way that athletes need additional calories as they train compared to other people, they also need more sleep. 

As they push their bodies to practice, they also need additional time to recover. Athletes in training should sleep for an extra hour. As an athlete, you can go to sleep earlier, or take an afternoon nap, to make up for the time needed.

How can a lack of sleep affect the performance of athletes?

Sleep deprivation not only makes athletes tired the next day, but it also has a huge impact on what happens inside the body.

The only time the body repairs itself is while you sleep. If you don’t get sufficient sleep, your performance level will drop. Studies have shown that more sleep has real importance for athletes.

1. Rates of injury

Lack of sufficient sleep has been associated with higher injury rates during athletic competitions. Studies have revealed that injury rates in youth athletes were higher during games that followed a night of sleep less than 6 hours. 

Another study about the injury rates in high school athletes discovered that sleep hours were the strongest predictor of injuries, even more so than hours spent practicing.

Most coaches encourage athletes to keep their heads up for good reason. Particularly in high-impact and quick sports, athletes need to observe their surroundings and anticipate potential collisions. When a player is tired after getting inadequate sleep the previous night, they’re slower to react. A reduced reaction rate could be the difference between a player injured or preparing for the impact.

Also, fatigue affects the immune system making players more susceptible to getting sick. In an environment having close team members, sicknesses can spread among players; it is therefore necessary for teams to get rid of risk factors such as poor sleep, to make sure that everyone remains healthy.

Regarding sleep recovery, lesser sleeping hours don’t provide enough time for the body to regenerate cells and repair from the abuse of games, training, and daily activities. This entails that not only can sleep deprivation can both cause injury to athletes and keep them out for longer periods because of slowed recovery rates. 

Over some time, health problems, sports injuries, and the inability to fully recover can wear an athlete and cause more time spent on the sidelines.

Even though it is not possible to avoid getting injured, athletes that have a good sleep schedule give their bodies the best possible opportunity to quickly recover and get rid of future preventable injuries.

2. Reaction time

Whether you’re making a good save in the rink or running head to head with your competition on the track, the slightest fraction of time will make the biggest difference. Sleep deprivation can reduce this alertness and lower the time of reaction. Lack of sleep has been proved to have the same effect on reaction times as alcohol intoxication of 0.05 percent BAC. This can have a major impact on the game of athletes.

A great athlete cannot spare even fractions of a second to react to make a play. Even though it is common sense for that athlete to remain sober on the field, an athlete that doesn’t get enough sleep could still be similarly impaired, even if they’re free from alcohol. One all-nighter can lower reaction rates by over 300 percent, and the sleep recovery can take many days.

Some people can overestimate their sleep time, and athletes are no different. One of the most effective ways to ensure that you’re getting sufficient sleep is to plan and strategize. Stick to routines, avoid caffeine and alcohol before going to bed, and have boundaries for the use of electronic devices in your bedroom.

3. Release of hormones

Sleep quality is just as important as the length of sleep. There are various stages to sleep. 

  • Stage 1 is the beginning of the sleep cycle where a person is still consciously aware of any environmental change. The start of the actual sleep cycle occurs in stage 2.
  • Stage 2 lasts from 10 to 20 minutes. 
  • Stage 3 and 4 is the deepest phases of sleep that occur for 30-40 minutes, followed by a time of active sleep called Rapid Eye Movement (REM). 

Stages 3 and 4 are important to the development of the athlete because this is where cortisol is regulated and growth hormone released.

Growth hormone, also called HGH, is an integral part of the endocrine system of the body. It is important for muscle building, muscle repair, bone growth, and promotion of fat oxidization. This is important for maintaining a certain standard of performance throughout an athlete’s career.

Cortisol, also referred to as the stress hormone is regulated during deep sleep. The level of cortisol directly impacts the ability of the body to digest glucose. Because endurance is based on the ability of the body to metabolize and synthesize glucose for later use, the quality of sleep becomes even more vital for athletes that specialize in endurance-testing sports such as track or swimming.

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