by Pat Stanziano, MPT, Hons BSc Kin
Cert. McKenzie MDT Provider (MICanada)
Diploma Sport Physiotherapy (Canada)
Cert. Strength and Conditioning Specialist
March 16th 2018, marked the 11th World Sleep Day. This year’s slogan was “Join the Sleep World, Preserve Your Rhythms to Enjoy Life”, and it serves as the inspiration for this blog.
Why is Sleep Important for Athletes?
Sleep is considered by athletes, coaches, and the sport medicine team to be one of the most important factors for post-exercise recovery; yet, it remains one of the most ignored. Inadequate sleep combined with failure to rest, travel fatigue, and jet lag contribute to poor recovery and, they jeopardize an athlete’s capability to maximize athletic performance at any level.
Elite athletes are susceptible to over-training due to the grueling nature of their training programs required to compete at an elite level. Most athletes, in particular teenage athletes, find it difficult balancing training and regimented schedules with the typical demands of life to get enough sleep to recover properly.
But recovery is the key to reaping the full benefit of training, and sleep is a major component of the recovery process. So here are some tips to improve sleep to help maximize recovery and, consequently, performance:
Tips to Improve Sleep for Recovery And Performance
- Increase how long you sleep at night. Healthy adults require 7-9 hours of sleep, but research shows that athletes need 9-10 hours.
- Daytime napping may help extend sleep. 30 minutes may be all that is needed to reduce the effects of sleep deprivation.
- When the plan calls for increasing training loads, sleep must be optimized. Train more, sleep more.
- Plan sleep into your schedule. Training times can sometimes vary, so it’s important that sleep and nap schedules are adjusted appropriately. However, try to keep your wake up times consistent. Even on weekends or days off, limit sleeping-in to within 1 hour.
- Create a comfortable bedroom environment. It is recommended that the room be cool, dark, and quiet (use a mask and earplugs if needed).
- Wind down before bed by avoiding stimulating activities, like TV, computer, and smartphone.
- Restrict stimulants like coffee, nicotine, and alcohol within several hours of your planned sleep time.
- Learn coping strategies for anxiety that may be affecting your sleep, like relaxation techniques and guided imagery.
Whether you are a high-level athlete with a rigorous training program or just trying to stay fit with regular exercise, remember that good sleep hygiene is essential for a full recovery and critical to the overall health benefits of exercise and activity.
Bird, S. (2013): Sleep, Recovery, and Athletic Performance: A Brief Review and Recommendations. Strength & Conditioning Journal 35(5) 43-47.
Bonnar, D. et al (2018): Sleep Interventions Designed to Improve Athletic Performance and Recovery: A Systematic Review of Current Approaches. Sports Medicine 48(3) 683-703.