Sleep and Athletic Performance By Jeremy Eaton, MS, CPT (AKA Sapo)

Sleep and Athletic Performance By Jeremy Eaton, MS, CPT (AKA Sapo)

but due to life getting in the way that bedtime is always a few hours later than you anticipated.  I’ve been told time and time again that sleep is the key to good health and that sleep allows proper recovery to for your body to obtain optimal cognitive, motor, and physiological functions.  According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, adults require between 7 and 9 h of sleep for optimal performance and health, while adolescents require additional sleep, ideally between 8 and 10 hours (Paruthi, 2017).  

Some “influencers” brag about their lack of sleep because they are too busy grinding, working to be successful. 
However, noted neuroscientist Dr. Walker had been quoted as saying, “sleep is probably the greatest legal performance-enhancing drug that few are abusing enough” (Gatto, 2019, para. 1).   I aim to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night, but realistically it ends up being around 6, but that may not even be quality sleep.  Even if you get 8 hours each night, but the lack of quality in the sleep is poor then your body will not get the proper recovery needed to function.  Some things that have helped me sleep better is limiting caffeine after 3pm, not eating a heavy meal too late, not drinking a lot of liquids prior to bedtime, and leaving my phone alone.  These small things help me sleep better through the night because I’m not getting up to pee, I’m not having a hard time getting to sleep, and my mind is clear before bed.  

One of the biggest benefits to proper sleep is the release of hormones specifically human growth hormone (HGH). 
Morris et al. (2012) have indicated that prior researchers have found a “growth hormone surge” that occurred about every two-hours during prolonged sleep. Growth hormone acts on many tissues to help promote healing, recovery, and growth, but it also helps to raise other hormones vital to recovery, such as insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1).   So, what does sleep mean for performance? I like to get up at 4:30am to get my workout in, before I start my day and I go to Jiu Jitsu classes in the evenings.  This can be taxing on my body if I don’t get quality sleep and my performance will decline.  If I only get 6 hours of sleep then I’m up at 4:30am to lift heavy, my workout will suffer due to the lack of quality sleep and since I didn’t get a lot of sleep, I may get tired at work and must supplement with caffeine to keep me going.  Throw in BJJ in the evenings when I’m getting home around 9:30 pm and after a snack and shower, I’m in bed around 10:30 pm and if I’m lucky I will not get any overnight callouts for work.  My morning workouts suffer if I don’t get enough sleep, especially heavy lifting days where muscle glycogen stores have decreased due to the limited sleep.  Glycogen is just the storage form of carbohydrates and when we consume carbs, they eventually enter our blood stream as glucose and used as an energy source.  During intense, intermittent exercise and throughout prolonged physical activity, muscle glycogen particles are broken down, freeing glucose molecules that muscle cells then oxidize through anaerobic and aerobic processes to produce the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) molecules required for muscle contraction (Hawley, 2015).

 Some sleep recommendations by the National Strength and Conditioning Association include: 1.  Getting the correct amount of sleep for your body as everyone is different. 2.  Try to have regular routine sleep habits like going to bed and waking at the same time in a positive sleep environment.  3.  Take a 30-minute power nap if you can but try to avoid napping in the afternoon or late evening.  4. Have adequate recovery from training or competition, and this can include massages, ice bath immersion, and compression garments.  5. Try to limit worry and anxiety before sleep, maybe meditate for 10 minutes prior to sleeping to ensure your mind is clear.  Sleep is important, but with life there are challenges, especially if you work full time, have a wife, kids, and a household to run it can make it very difficult to get the sleep we need for a proper recovery.  Now when you through weightlifting, Crossfit, Jiu Jitsu, or any other athletic training into the mix the recovery is even more important.  
My advice would to be to just start out slow, get into a routine because once something becomes a habit, it is much easier to stay on track.  If your sleep doesn’t improve, I would recommend getting a sleep study done, it helped me, and I now use a CPAP machine and it makes a world of difference.  Try to limit any sleep medications because these could have adverse effects on your health.

Paruthi S, Brooks LJ, D'Ambrosio C, et al. Consensus statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine on the recommended amount of sleep for healthy children: methodology and discussion. J. Clin. Sleep Med. 2016; 12:1549–61.
Gatto, L. (2019). Roger Federer sleep 12 hours a day, says neuroscientist. Retrieved from
Morris, C. J., Aeschbach, D., & Scheer, F. A. (2012). Circadian system, sleep and endocrinology. Molecular and cellular endocrinology, 349(1), 91–104.
Watson, Andrew M. MD, MS. Sleep and Athletic Performance. Current Sports Medicine Reports 16(6):p 413-418, 11/12 2017. | DOI: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000418
Hawley, J. A., & Leckey, J. J. (2015). Carbohydrate Dependence During Prolonged, Intense Endurance Exercise. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 45 Suppl 1(Suppl 1), S5–S12.

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