Time to Read
Points of Interest
- The cycles of sleep
- The consequences of lost sleep
- The secrets to sleep success
There's a lot more to sleep than we sometimes think, and the benefits of good, regular sleep patterns are huge for our mental well-being and concentration, hormonal health, and physical performance.
Sleeping well at night is the best thing that you can do to recover from a hard workout, and will put you in the right place to smash it again the next day.
Read on to find out why sleep is just so powerful for performance, and how to sleep better.
The Cycles of Sleep
When we sleep, we rotate through a number of distinct phases to form a ‘sleep cycle'. During uninterrupted sleep, we will move through each phase of a cycle, then return to the start of that cycle and start again.
Phase 1: light sleep
This phase of sleep typically amasses to over 50% of our total nightly sleep, and is all about mental rejuvenation and memory consolidation. This is the part of the night most pivotal to daily alertness and focus.Phase 2: deep sleep
This phase is all about the physical repair – hence the part that we're most interested in as athletes.
During deep sleep, we produce Human Growth Hormone, which stimulates cellular growth and muscular repair, as well as boosting your immune system. Human Growth Hormone is absolutely vital to recovery and progress in sport, as you don't get stronger when you train, but when you recover.
Quality deep sleep not only helps us recover, but also perform the next day, boosting reaction times, stamina and alertness.Phase 3: REM sleep
This is the phase of the night when you dream, and that activity in your brain causes your eyes to flicker – Rapid Eye Movement.
The consequences of lost sleep
One or two nights of lost sleep won't have any impact on your endurance or strength, but it can impact your metabolism, leaving you feeling low of energy. A night or two of lost sleep will however impact concentration and mental focus, meaning your performance in sports involving hand-eye co-ordination such as football, rugby or athletics may suffer.
The loss of focus can impact your resolve and determination as you work out too – which can have an indirect impact on your physical performance. Feelings of fatigue tend to leave you short on grit and will-power, meaning you your resilience and determination to push through a tough work out may suffer.
Prolonged periods of missed sleep do impact us physically however. The notable consequences include a depressed immune system, weight gain, and a decline in overall performance. This performance dip is a result of both impaired Human Growth Hormone production, thus mitigating our ability to recover, and a decline in our glucose metabolism – thus leaving us less fuel for the muscles.
The secrets to sleep successRegular naps:
Short naps of around 20-30 minutes during the day can provide a powerful mental boost and help reduce our recovery times.
Our body temperature drops at around midday and early evening – i.e. after our lunch and dinner – and hormones inducing sleep are produced, making it easier for us to drift off. So, aim to have your naps in one of these windows of opportunity. Ensure you nap no longer than around 40 minutes though, or your night time sleep will suffer.Track your sleep:
There's a lot of apps and wearables out there now that will help you monitor your sleep, revealing just how much you're sleeping a night and how many hours you're spending in bed.
Of course, having these data points doesn't mean you're magically going to start sleeping better, but it does mean that you'll be able to track how your habits in the day impact your sleep. For example, it may reveal trends around caffeine or alcohol consumption, or exercise taken the day before.Optimise your sleep environment:
There's a lot that can be done to ‘improve' your bedroom and pre-sleep routine to boost the quality of the sleep that you get. Here are the essentials:
- Ditch the screens: The blue light they emit inhibits melatonin (the sleep hormone), so try to avoid your laptop, mobile, or tablet for an hour before bed.
- Make it dark: Similar to the impact of blue light from mobile devices, a room that is too light will tell your body it should be awake.
- Keep it cool: You ideally need your room to be a little cooler than your body temperature – so ideally around 16-18 degrees C. This encourages your body into a sleep state.
- Keep the room for sleep only: Avoid working in your bedroom, and make it a space for just sleep (or other nocturnal activities!) only. Bringing other activities into the room will alter your brain's perception regarding what the room is for, which can affect your ability to switch off.
- Have a routine: Getting into bed at roughly the same time every night will help your body get into a daily rhythm. Similarly, try to have an activity you typically perform before bed, such as meditation, taking a bath, or reading – as once the habit is established, your body will take the activity as a prompt to sleep.
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