Most athletes understand that a healthy diet, rigorous workout routine, and the right frame of mind are all essential elements to performing at their very best.
However, one element to athletic success that is often overlooked is sleep.
Sleep and, perhaps more importantly, sleep recovery is becoming more and more recognized for its potential to increase athletic performance and boost athletic recovery.
And that's exactly what we are going to explore in this post, how sleep recovery is just as important as eating well, working out regularly, and developing the right mental state.
Why Sleep Is Important For Athletes
Sleep is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle, with significant influences on emotional regulation, cognitive performance, and, most importantly to athletes, physical development.
And this is becoming more and more recognized in sports medicine and sports science fields.
Not only is research demonstrating that sleep is an integral part of recovery between periods of exercise but accumulating evidence is suggesting that sleep quality and sleep duration also both implications for athletic performance and athletic recovery. Furthermore, a better quality of sleep has been shown to reduce the risk of athletic illness and injury.
Despite these findings, many athletes fail to grasp the importance of sleep on their athletic performance and recovery.
This may be due to a few aspects of an athlete's life. Stringent training requirements, competition schedules, constant travel between events, overtraining, stress, and academic and work-related commitments can all have impacts on the quality of sleep an athlete is getting.
How Sleep Affects Athletic Performance
There are many reasons why sleep is an integrally important element to an athlete's perceived success.
One reason, sleep facilitates the retention and consolidation of memories. When an athlete trains and practices or learns new skills, sleep is the linking factor that makes a newly practiced skill turn from fresh and unhoned to instinctual and, what we term as, "muscle memory".
Without quality sleep, this process of memory retention and consolidation is limited. Ultimately prolonging the time needed to learn new athletic skills and delaying athletic development.
Sleep plays a major role in cognitive health. Sleep loss or sleep deprivation results in a decline in cognitive function which can have adverse effects on decision making and situational adaptation, both integral to athletic performance.
Sleep also plays a major role in maintaining mental health, particularly deep sleep that facilitates REM sleep. REM sleep is associated with improving overall mood and preventing irritability and the chance of developing depression.
Examples Of Sleep And Its Effects on Athletic Performance
- A Stanford study demonstrated how a men's basketball team that extended their sleep to 10-hours a night experienced fast sprint times, improved their free-throw and three-point shot accuracy by 9 percent, and experienced a lift in mood and overall well-being.
- A study following 80 Major League Baseball players concluded that fatigue can both limit performance and, ultimately, shorten the length of a player's career.
How Sleep Affects Athletic Recovery
Sleep deprivation and sleep loss also have massive implications on athletic recovery. While the opposite is also true, boosted sleep quality and increases in sleep duration are also a cause of improved athletic recovery.
As mentioned, sleep is essential for overall health and well-being. Everyone requires sleep in order to feel refreshed and function at their very best.
This is because a person's breathing, heart, and temperature all slow and lower during the five stages of REM sleep. These different stages of REM sleep benefit athlete recovery because:
- Sleep gives the heart and vascular system a chance to rest and recovery from athletic pursuits.
- During sleep, an increase of growth hormones is released. This helps boost muscle mass and repairs the body's cells and tissues that need replenishing post-workout.
- Sleep also prevents the body from getting sick. While asleep, small proteins called cytokines are released. Cytokines help the immune system to fight infections and other immune afflictions that may affect athletic recovery.
Examples of Sleep And Its Effects On Athletic Recovery
- A study involving 27 male trained athletes showed sleep disturbances and a lack of sleep quality increased the chance of illness and worked to decline their VO2 max.
- Another study found an increase in sleep hygiene and sleep quality for 8 highly trained tennis players helping to maintain lower perceived post-session soreness and workout fatigue.
Sleep is an integral part of not only improving and maintaining athletic performance but it is an essential ingredient of athletic recovery.
Without a decent night's sleep, the likelihood of an athlete's performance to taper off is certain. And, an athlete's chance of injury and athletic recovery is also vastly increased.
To avoid this, a good night's sleep is a must.
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