There are certain biological necessities like sleep that you can’t do without. It’s necessary for proper emotional, mental, and physical functioning. Athletes will find that it’s even more important than usual because of the role it plays in muscle recovery. For athletes, a healthy training schedule includes plenty of rest periods and an emphasis on adequate sleep.
How Muscles Heal and Recover
It’s while you sleep that the body performs the important work of healing and restoring muscle tissue. Your sleep cycle is divided into five or six 60 to 90-minute cycles. In each of these cycles, the body goes through five sleep stages. It’s during the first of the deep sleep stages, wherein brain waves slow, that muscle repair begins. This stage marks the release of human growth hormone (GH) to stimulate tissue repair.
However, changes in the timing or duration of the sleep cycle alter the release of GH. For example, if you go to bed two to three hours later than normal, the peak release of GH is delayed and the overall Gh released throughout the night goes down. On the other hand, if you get less than seven hours of sleep, the body doesn’t have time to release as much GH as is necessary for full recovery. Both cases increase recovery times and adversely affect performance.
Athletes May Need More Than Average
Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep. Athletes place higher physical demands on their bodies than the average person, which means they may need more sleep than average.
A study conducted amongst the Stanford University men’s varsity basketball team found that an extended sleep time of 10 hours improved athletic performance. Both their free-throw and three-point field goal percentages increased by approximately 9 percent. Their sprint times decreased, and they reported feeling less physical and emotional fatigue. Overall, more sleep positivity affected their performance and mental wellbeing on and off the court.
How to Get More (and Better) Sleep for Faster Recovery
- Mental Relaxation: Once the head hits the pillow, many people start going through a mental checklist of everything they could’ve possibly forgotten. To help ease your mind into sleep, we suggest checking all safety measures. Check the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Make sure that all windows and doors are locked. Check your car to make sure it’s secure too. A security check makes sure the ‘what if’s’ won’t keep you awake.
- Establish a Reasonable Bedtime: If you’re trying to get nine or ten hours of sleep, you need to set a reasonable bedtime and stick to it. That may mean saying no to a night out with friends or shutting down your laptop early.
- Eat for Better Sleep: The human body loves consistency, and you can use meal timing to your sleep advantage. Meals eaten at the same time every day and in regular intervals helps your body recognize when to start the sleep cycle. What you eat is also important. Protein and carbs have been shown to aid sleep while high-fat foods cause restlessness and indigestion.
- Shut Screens Down: It can be tempting to binge watch your favorite streaming service or scroll through social media until midnight. But, screen time can interfere with your sleep cycle as the bright blue spectrum light emitted by many electronics suppresses sleep hormones. Shut everything down two to three hours before bed to stay on track.
Sleep deserves no less dedication than that to a team or training program. As your workout intensity increases, be sure your sleep schedule follows so that you’ve got the energy and power to perform at your best.