The purpose of this “Sleep Session” was to take stock and share the current knowledge of the impact of sleep on athletic performance. Below a brief summary.
Ton Coenen and Arne Nieuwenhuys of Radboud University Nijmegen explain the importance of sleep on the basis of the processes which mainly take place during sleep. Muscle recovery and muscle buildup, for example, takes mainly place during the sleep, but this also applies to the removal of toxic substances, the recording of events in the memory, and regulating (growth) hormones and metabolism. They also showed that the body has a daily rhythm, wherein, among other things, the body temperature, the maximum alertness, the blood pressure and maximum muscle strength fluctuate with a 24-hour rhythm.
Torbjörn Åkerstedt of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm explained what has been known about the effects of sleep deprivation, disrupted and impaired sleep. The studies he discussed clearly showed the importance of adequate sleep for health and alertness. Ysbrand van der Werff, of VU University Medical Center reported that newly learned complex skills are better repeated by subjects who were allowed to sleep between training and performance measures.
Finally Shona Halson of the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) gave a look at the sleep habits of Australian and British athletes. They also showed how she monitors and improves the quality of sleep of Australian athletes. Below her findings from practice concerning the sleep problems that athletes can have. Also you find her advise and those of the other speakers at the congress briefly summarized at the end of this piece.
Research shows that athletes, who sleep badly, have bad habits that disrupt their sleep. This adjustment of the behavior is often simple and is sufficient to achieve a healthy sleep cycle. In some cases, the athlete can, by poor sleep, end up in a negative spiral. A lack of sleep can increase pain sensitivity, allowing the athlete then sleep more badly again. The athlete may become stressed because he is worried that he sleeps too little. Furthermore, a competitive grid where the athlete is not used to, a jet lag or disturbed metabolisms are the cause of sleep deprivation.
Some athletes may get sleeping problems because they fear to miss social events. In English this is called FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Inexperienced athletes, for example, suffer from it during competitions or training camps. They find it difficult to turn down invitations to social events, or become obsessed with social media. Try, therefore, to make time during the day at fixed times for social media and contact with friends, so that it disturbs as little as possible with the training and race performance of the athlete.
If the athlete’s sleeping problems nevertheless continue, it may be useful to keep a sleep diary, or to monitor the sleep with the aid of special devices, such as an actigraph or EEG monitor. In extreme cases, behavioral therapy or medication may be used in order to restore the sleep cycle.
In most cases, the following advices are sufficient in order to achieve an optimum sleep rhythm.
- Provide 8 hours of sleep, preferably between 11 pm and 7 am. Around four o’clock in the morning alertness is the least and the body benefits most.
- Stick to a very regular sleep-wake schedule. The brains metabolism will already slow down before bedtime, making falling asleep easier. In addition, men sleep worse when they have to get up early the next day. If an athlete regularly has to get up early for competitions or training, it is recommended to always to rise at this time.
- Provide a dark, quiet and cool bedroom and a comfortable bed and pillow.
- Do not use caffeine, tobacco or alcohol before bedtime, and close TV, smart phone, tablet and bright light at least 1 hour before bedtime.
- Avoid sleeping during the day, except if a short nap is a standard part of your daily rhythm. Don´t make the nap too long. Max 30 minutes.
- Do not work in bed and avoid exercise just before bed, both physically and mentally. Includes homework. Write things that concern you.
- Unwind with relaxation, good music or a bath two hours before bedtime. Do not worry if you occasionally sleep less well.