Sleep is an important aspect if you want to maintain the best health and well-being. When it comes to athletes, sleep is even more important for regenerating and repairing, keeping up their focus, and keeping them performing at their best. Just how much sleep do athletes actually need to be in top condition? Let’s find out.
Why is sleep so important?
You know that sleep is essential. If you’ve ever had a bout of insomnia or a poor night’s sleep, you know the effects that it can have on your day. You feel tired, unfocused, and not able to work at your best. It affects your mental and physical well-being, your ability to learn, retain information, and slows you down.
If we look at sleep from the perspective of an athlete, lack of sleep can affect your ability to focus, to make those quick decisions, to lose your perspective, and impairs your cognitive abilities. Longer-term effects are a lower immune system and being more susceptible to gaining weight.
Metabolism is important for athletes. To keep their muscles strong, many athletes have high protein diets and need to have the energy to burn off calories and fat. When you aren’t getting the sleep that you need, your body begins to burn less energy from stored fat and turns to carbs and protein to burn. This eventually leads to the loss of muscle and the gaining of weight. Athletes need to keep in shape and keep muscles toned and strong to be able to perform well.
There is also the restoration aspect of sleep. Your brain gets a build-up of metabolic waste from the day’s many neural activities. A build-up of metabolic waste as a result of sleep deprivation has an impact on the neurological system that impacts memory. Many athletes know their training routines by heart and their reflexes that stem from memory training. When this is affected by lack of sleep it can lead to accidents, not being able to move quickly enough to avoid an accident, and not being able to efficiently get through their routine because their memory is being affected.
Athletes and cumulative sleep
Athletes train and work in environments that can be very demanding on the body and the mind. Constantly working in this kind of environment can lead to something called cumulative stress. It becomes more of an issue during events when they are under even more pressure to perform well. They may not get many chances to wind down or relax, or to get the sleep they need. This lets stress build-up, which can lead to emotional fatigue, depression, apathy, and a vague anxious feeling. If left unchecked, it can lead to a more intense physical and emotional fatigue, and this is where you may see athletes turn to alcohol or drug use just so they can keep up.
These are all aspects can make a huge impact on an athlete. This occurs for both adult athletes and adolescent athletes alike. In fact, lack of sleep can have an even bigger impact on adolescent athletes because they are at a stage of growth and development, which requires the right amount of sleep.
Getting a good night’s sleep is vital since sleep plays an important role in both your physical and mental health. Take a look at what the right amount of sleep can affect:
- Weight gain – studies have linked obesity to bad sleeping habits/patterns. This is down to the impact on the hunger hormone, Leptin.
- Calorie regulation – another study has linked lower calorie consumption to better sleep habits
- Athletic performance
- Less inflammation
- Stronger immune system
So, how many hours of sleep do athletes need?
For the average adult, getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep is adequate.
Athletes, however, need at least 10 hours of sleep.
As an athlete, you undergo high volumes of training each day, which puts stress on the body. If you don’t get the sleep you need, it starts affecting your training and lowers the body’s immune system, which leaves you open to infection, compromising your training even further.
Ndamukong Suh the defensive tackle for the NFL Rams, shared that he aims to get between 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. He said that:
It’s also about when you sleep for athletes. Training takes a lot out of you, so you don’t want to begin it early in the day, as it will leave you feeling drained for the rest of the day.
Doing your training too late in the day isn’t optimal either because you may be tired from the day and not be able to give your best. More importantly, it will have an impact on your sleep. To be able to sleep well, your mind and body need to be in a relaxed state. When you are training or doing a workout you are focused and it raises the levels of arousal/excitement, which can be hard to come back down from. This, in turn, makes it harder to get into that relaxed state needed for sleep. It’s for this reason that most athletes do their training during the afternoon. It gives you time to come down from the adrenaline of training so that it doesn’t affect your ability to fall asleep.
England footballer, Wayne Rooney, shared that he not only aims to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night but also has a 1 to 2-hour nap in the afternoons. He also shared how it can take 4 hours for him to feel sleepy right after a big game.
Going back to the question of how much sleep athletes need to give their best, experts have recommended that adult athletes get between 7 to 9 hours of sleep and adolescent athletes between 9 and 10 hours.
Every athlete is different and some, like those who take part in power sports, may need more than those who participate in less demanding sports.[Related: how much sleep do you need?]
How quality sleep affects an athletes performance
When you sleep, growth hormones are released. These stimulate the repair and growth of muscles, bones, and burns fat. Sleeping well allows you to recover from a day of training, which in turn helps to improve your performance. It also lets you learn new skills to hone and sharpen your performance.
Gold medal triathlon winner, Gwen Jorgensen, in an interview for the Huffington Post, said she has a regular routine at bedtime and makes sure to get between 8 to 10 hours of sleep to give her best performance.
Another triathlete, Chris Leiferman, shared that he makes sure to go to bed at the same time each night, training or not, and sleeps 9 hours.
The importance of deep sleep and REM sleep
There are two important parts of sleep; REM and deep sleep.
The REM sleep cycle
REM, or rapid eye movement sleep, usually begins within 90 minutes after you have fallen asleep. This cycle is one that repeats every 90 minutes and the pattern of brainwaves closely resembles those of a person who is awake. Your eyes move rapidly, your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure also rise to a similar level of wakefulness. This is also when you are more likely to dream.
During REM your body, mainly the legs and arms, becomes paralyzed temporarily. It’s a defense mechanism that keeps you from acting out physically while dreaming so that you don’t hurt yourself.
Dreaming is believed to be the mind’s way of processing emotions and memories that are important. REM sleep takes up around 25% of your sleep.
Deep sleep allows your mind to process emotions, learn, consolidate memories, recover physically, and lets the mind detox. Your metabolism and blood sugar levels become balanced, and your immune system is recharged. For most healthy adults, about 23% of your sleep cycle is deep sleep. That’s about 60 to 110 minutes if you sleep for 8 hours. The older you get, the less deep sleep you need.
REM and Deep Sleep working together
Both sleep cycles have a restorative function but in different ways. The function of deep sleep is to restore you physically. It regulates growth and hormones. Not getting enough deep sleep can lower your immunity, raising your chances of becoming sick. It can cause feelings of depression and has links to weight gain.
REM sleep’s restorative functions focus on the brain processes, rather than the physical body. It works to synthesizes your emotions and memories. This is essential for high-level thought and for learning. When you don’t get enough REM sleep it becomes harder to process things, makes you less cognitive, affects your memory, and makes it harder to focus.
It seems that REM sleep is most affected when you aren’t getting enough sleep. When you are sleep deprived, your brain chooses a lighter cycle of sleep, which means you aren’t getting the REM sleep you need. Not getting enough REM sleep can make even easy single activities feel like a challenge, never mind trying to multitask.[Related: What is REM sleep?]
Signs that you’re not getting enough sleep
There are several signals to look for that can tell you that you aren’t getting the sleep you need. Saying that many people who are suffering from sleep deprivation don’t even realize that they are, and this is because the signs are subtle ones. However, knowing what to look for can help you determine if you are suffering from a lack of sleep.
Here are the warning signs you need to watch out indicating you’re sleep deprived:
- You aren’t able to wake up on time without relying on an alarm clock
- You rely on hitting that snooze button too much
- You find that it’s difficult getting out of bed in the morning
- During the afternoon you begin to feel sluggish
- You feel sleepy when sitting in meetings or lectures that are dull, or when sitting in a warm room
- You tend to feel drowsy when you are driving or after you have had a heavy meal
- You aren’t able to get through your day without taking a nap
- You find yourself drifting off in the evenings when you are relaxing or watching TV
- You feel the need to sleep in at the weekend
- You find that you fall asleep within five minutes of getting into bed
- You are easy to irritate or have mood swings
- You start to forget things more often and your work performance drops
The effects of sleep deprivation
The longer you are sleep deprived, the more it affects you physically and mentally. If left to go on for too long, it can lead to a number of other health issues:
- Raises your stress hormone levels
- Raises your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes
- It can lead to having problems with your memory
- It raises your risk of developing cardiovascular disease
- It raises the inflammation levels of your body
- It can lead you to gain weight
- It raises your anxiety levels
- It can cause you to feel excessively sleepy during the day
- It raises your pain sensitivity level
- It can speed up the effects of the aging process
- It lowers your skin’s ability to heal properly
- It weakens your immune system
- It compromises your cognitive functioning, your reaction times, and your ability to make decision
How the body is affected by sleep deprivation
You’ve seen the impact that sleep deprivation has on the mind, but how does it affect us physically?
Missing one night of sleep can leave you feeling groggy, tired, and not your usual self. The long term effects it has physically can result in the development of health issues. Lack of sleep means the body isn’t getting a chance to regenerate and heal. It impacts the respiratory, digestive, cardiovascular, nervous, immune, and endocrine systems.
That’s a huge impact!
The Respiratory System
When you aren’t getting enough sleep, you become more vulnerable to respiratory issues, such as the common cold and flu. It also impacts existing issues you may have with your respiratory system. Adding to this is the fact that, if you have issues like sleep apnea, your sleep is further affected, weakening you more.
The Cardiovascular System
Sleep deprivations’ impact on the cardiovascular system effects the regulating of your blood sugar levels, blood pressure, the healing of blood vessels and the heart, and the levels of inflammation in the body. This can make you a higher risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.
The Central Nervous System
Sleep deprivation’s impact on the central nervous system can interrupt the brain’s ability to send and receive the body’s receptors. This means your brain can become tired and finds it difficult to create the necessary new connections between the nerve cells in the brain. This lowers your reaction time, which can lead to accidents.
The Immune System
Your immune system is what produces body-protecting substances that fight off infection. Cytokines are one of these substances that acts as a sleep aid that lets the body turn its focus on healing. When you aren’t getting enough sleep, your immune system isn’t able to build up the resources needed to fight off infections and diseases. It also impacts the body’s ability to recover, which in turn can lead to chronic issues that are long-term, such as diabetes.
The Digestive System
The hormones, leptin, and ghrelin, are what controls your feelings of being hungry or full. They are also impacted by sleep deprivation, which causes the brain to lower leptin levels (which makes us feel full). This triggers the brain to raise the ghrelin levels in the body (making you feel hungry) and leads to eating more at night.
Sleep deprivation also sends out signals to the body, after you’ve eaten, to raise a higher than normal level of insulin. High levels of insulin signal the body to store fat, which is what leads to weight gain. Lack of sleep also affects your energy levels, making it harder to get the exercise you need to burn off those extra calories.
The Endocrine System
The production of hormones is the job of the endocrine system, and it needs 3 hours of sleep in order to produce the hormones your body needs. Sleep deprivation disrupts this cycle, which can affect growth hormones that the body needs to repair muscle, tissue, bones, and cells.
Lack of sleep has a big impact on your emotional levels, which can then affect you physically. With a lack of sleep, your moods swing from one end of the spectrum to the other. Your levels of patience and tolerance lower, and some have even experienced hearing or seeing things that are not there. The effects of sleep deprivation on your emotional levels can:
- Raise your anxiety levels
- Cause you to behave impulsively
- Cause feelings of depression
- Can make you feel paranoid
- Can trigger the symptoms of mania for those who are bipolar
- Can lead to suicidal thoughts in those who already suffer from depression
Tips for getting the sleep you need
It’s important that you get the sleep you need whether you are an athlete or not. There are some things that you can try to help you get the sleep you need. One thing to keep in mind is that, if you have been suffering from sleep deprivation for some time, it may be down to an underlying issue that needs to be treated by a doctor. So, ruling out any health issues is your first step.
Sticking to a regular sleep schedule is very important. You should find a schedule that works for you and then stick to that schedule, even on the weekends or your days off.
Exercising regularly can also help you sleep better at night. Its recommended that you get at least 30 minutes of exercise or some other activity each day. Just keep in mind not to do this close to your bedtime. As we learned earlier, most athletes choose to do their training in the afternoon, which gives their body and mind plenty of time to cool down before it’s time for bed.
Watching what you drink and eat is also important, especially if you tend to have a caffeinated or alcoholic drink before bed. Foods that are sugary, alcohol, and caffeine are known to disrupt sleep. Also, make sure not to have heavy meals or drink a lot of fluids after a certain time before bed.
If stress is something that keeps you up at night, you may want to find some help managing your stress. Learning calming and breathing techniques to use before bed can be very helpful. If you tend to wake up at night with anxiety or worries, keep a journal next to your bed and write it down. Then leave off worrying about it until the morning. This can take a bit of practice.
Have a look at your sleep environment as well. Your bedroom should be for sleeping, not used partly as your office. To get a good night’s sleep, your room should be a comfortable temperature, it should be dark, and quiet.
Lastly, review your usual bedtime routine. Does it allow you enough time to wind down from the stresses of the day? Having a warm bath or shower can help you relax before bed. You may like to read a bit before bed as well, which is fine. However, you should avoid things like having a TV in the bedroom or being on your phone or laptop in bed when you ought to be sleeping.
We’ve learned from athletes that having a set bedtime routine is important in getting a good night’s sleep, and how not getting one can have an impact on your performance and focus, amongst other things. Athletes tend to need a couple of hours more sleep than the average person, with adolescent athletes needing a bit more than adult athletes. Get into the habit of practicing good before bed routines that will relax you and make sure you’re getting both the quantity and quality of sleep your body needs.
Just like diet and exercise, sleep is unique to each person and important for optimal health. PlushBeds Luxury Bliss offers the ideal level of firmness, comfort and support for deep sleep and restoration. And after a getting good night’s rest on a PlushBed mattress you’ll know you’ve had the best possible sleep.