Improving Your Performance Via Sleep
All too often, athletes spend a lot of money and effort trying to rack up every possible advantage before a competition -- from tubs of protein powder, to $100 compression shorts and amino acid smoothies. Want a simpler, cheaper, and healthier way? Go to bed an hour early. In today's day and age, it's incredibly easy to stay up late and stare at your various screens almost all day, but getting enough sleep is crucial for athletic performance. Studies have found that good sleep can improve speed, accuracy, and reaction time in athletes, so go to sleep right now!
OK, that might be a little rash, but the point still stands -- it hardly matters whether you're an Olympic athlete, a weekend warrior, or a lunch-break walker, getting enough sleep is oh-so-crucial. Here's why sleep is important -- along with some CoachUp procured tips on how to get more of it.
How Much Sleep Do Athletes Need?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, most people need about seven to nine hours of sleep a night. However, if you're an athlete-in-training, that may not be enough. For athletes, there is more than just eating, going to school, and doing homework -- there is also the stress of grueling practices too. Thanks to these on top of the normal responsibilities, the body naturally needs more time to shut down, re-group, and heal. If you aren't able to go to bed earlier, try an afternoon nap after school for an hour before practice.
How Sleep Affects Athletic Performance
This part extends beyond the realm of sports, but is still incredibly important nonetheless, so pay attention! In reality, people often look past the importance of sleep. Not getting enough sleep doesn't only make you tired the next day, but it also has a super large impact on what's happening with your body. Ultimately, sleep is the time when your body repairs itself, so less sleep invariably equals less progress.
Sleep deprivation reduces your body's ability to store glycogen, which is energy that you need during endurance events, or, heck, even just staying awake in class! Then you've got worse decision making and reflex skills. Studies have shown that athletes who don't get enough sleep are worse at making split-second decisions and less accurate.
Then, to top it all off, you've got hormone changes. Not getting enough sleep can increase levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that can slow down healing, increase the risk of injuries, and worsen memory. It also lowers levels of growth hormone that helps repair the body -- so if you want to do that simple math with us real quick, not only are you gaining hormones that hurt your system, but are also losing the good ones! Thankfully, however, not all hope is lost.
Inch By Inch Improvement
So, you want to fix your sleep? Now that you've read this article, you're probably a turned convert, ready to subscribe to the system of sleep? That's great news! Next, here's how you can actually achieve those sleeping goals, which will, invariably, lead to achieving your goals on the field as well. Who knew that you could score goals because you went to bad early the night before?
First, do your best to get on a regular schedule. Which means, sometimes unfortunately, going to bed and getting up at the same time every day. For those in education, your awakening times are usually set in stone, so that means that you must work towards getting to bed consistently, which is easily the hardest part. Yes, this means no Facebook, no Twitter, no games, just sleep! Let your body get used to it's new bed time and circadian rhythm and we promise you'll see improvements. Not only will you start walking up refreshed and ready, you'll actually be ready to begin your day. Sometimes, you might even get out of bed before your alarm, crazy, we know!
Next, you'll want to avoid certain substances, especially when close to competition. This includes alcohol and caffeine because they're quick stimulants to raise your system in a pinch, but these are not sustainable methods. To this, avoid sleep medication as over-the-counter aids will linger and effect your next day's performances. For those that can't fall asleep quickly, cut back on screen time. That means, unfortunately, no looking at your phone in bed under just that dim light. It causes eye strain and stimulates the rest of the body, which, in turn, doesn't allow it to shut down properly. Those texts will still be there in the morning, we promise!
(Related: Read about creating a good, athletic diet here.)
Huddle Up Remember that even when you're not in training, sleep should still be a priority. Getting enough sleep doesn't only help with athletic performance. It can do so much more, increasing your resistance to colds, reducing pain, improving your memory, and helping you lose weight. Ultimately, no stimulant, internet message, or diet exercises will have as much effect on your athletic performance than an extra hour of sleep! It's cheap, it's healthy -- what are you waiting for?