Dream Big, Recover Better: Why sleep is important and how to improve it.
Sleep is a crucial component of overall health and well-being, and it is especially important for athletes who need to perform at their best. While the benefits of quality sleep are clear, many people still struggle to get enough quality sleep due to stress, poor sleep hygiene, technology, environmental factors, and many other reasons. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night, while athletes and physically active individuals alike may require even more depending on their training regimen and overall health. Adequate sleep is essential for both physical and mental health, and it plays a key role in the recovery and repair of muscles and tissues. We will review the importance of quality sleep and why it’s crucial for overall health and well-being, especially for athletes who need to perform at their best. We will discuss the different stages of sleep, and their functions and provide tips for improving sleep hygiene. We will also highlight the benefits of good sleep hygiene, the issues that sleep deprivation may cause, and how to take control of sleeping habits to improve brain function and physical recovery.
There are four stages of sleep, each with its own characteristics and functions. Stages 1 and 2 are light stages of sleep, while Stages 3 and 4 are deep stages of sleep. The different stages of sleep are important for different reasons. Light sleep (Stages 1 and 2) is important for memory consolidation and learning. Deep sleep (Stages 3 and 4) is important for physical restoration, hormone regulation, and immune function. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which occurs after the deep sleep stages, is important for cognitive function and emotional regulation. Therefore, to optimize our recovery, we need to be able to spend adequate time in each of the sleep stages. Below you will see the benefits of sleep hygiene, the issues sleep deprivation may cause, and tips on how to take control of your sleeping habits.
Benefits of good sleep hygiene
First, we need to talk about what sleep hygiene is. Sleep hygiene refers to a set of practices and habits that promote good quality sleep. This includes what we do before bed, what we consume, and our experiences throughout the day. Next, we’ll discuss why we need to pay attention to our sleep hygiene and later we will see how we can take steps to enhance it.
Sleep is good for the brain. Quality sleep has been shown to improve memory and learning. During sleep, the brain consolidates memories and processes new information, which can lead to improved memory and learning abilities. This can be especially beneficial for athletes who need to learn and retain new skills or strategies.
During sleep, our body releases growth hormone, which helps repair and grow muscle tissue. Adequate sleep also promotes the secretion of other hormones, such as testosterone and cortisol that play important roles in muscle recovery and growth. Additionally, during deep sleep, blood flow to muscles increases, providing oxygen and nutrients necessary to enhance repair and recovery.
Sleep is also essential for regulating mood, improving cognitive function, and boosting immune function. It plays a crucial role in the body’s ability to maintain a healthy immune system, which is important for athletes who need to avoid illness and injury. A recent study by Watson et al. showed that individuals who obtain less than 7 hours of sleep, have up to a 1.7 times greater risk of musculoskeletal injury. Therefore, prioritizing good sleep hygiene is essential for athletes to perform at their best and reduce the risk of injury.
Impacts of sleep deprivation on Health
Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to several health problems, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Getting enough sleep can help reduce the risk of these health problems, which is important for athletes who need to maintain good health to perform at their best.
In addition to physical health problems, sleep deprivation can also have negative impacts on cognitive function and mental health. Lack of sleep can lead to difficulty concentrating, poor decision-making skills, and increased risk of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. For athletes, these consequences can have a significant impact on their performance both on and off the field. It is important for athletes to prioritize sleep as an essential part of their training regimen to maintain good physical and mental health.
Sleep hygiene tips
- Stick to a consistent sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends. When the body follows a regular sleep schedule, the brain is better able to transition through the different stages of sleep, allowing for deeper and more restful sleep, leading to improved brain function and overall well-being.
- Lower the temperature of the room, and make sure it is a quiet and dark space. A quiet and dark space can help promote REM sleep, which is essential for cognitive function, memory consolidation, and emotional regulation, as described above.
- Avoid screens, such as TVs, computers, and phones, for at least an hour before bed. Screens tend to suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime because caffeine may prevent you from falling asleep whereas alcohol may make you sleepy but reduce sleep quality. A stud by Ebrahim et al. found that alcohol consumption before bed resulted in more nighttime awakenings and reduced sleep quality.
- Incorporate relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga before bed.
- Exercise during the day can help promote better sleep quality at night. Regular exercise can help individuals fall asleep faster and experience deeper sleep.
Sleep is essential for both brain function and physical recovery, making it an important aspect of an athlete’s training regimen. While the benefits of quality sleep are clear, chronic sleep deprivation can lead to serious health problems that can impact an athlete’s performance. By following simple sleep hygiene tips such as sticking to a consistent sleep schedule, creating a sleep-friendly environment, and avoiding stimulating activities before bed, athletes can improve their sleep quality and reap the benefits of a well-rested body and mind. Remember, prioritizing sleep is an investment in your health and performance as an athlete.
Aaron Wallace BSc, MSc, RockTape Ambassador, Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, Class of 2023, Clinical Representative, President of Soft Tissue Therapy Club and Rehab 2 Performance Club
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Ebrahim, I. O., Shapiro, C. M., Williams, A. J., & Fenwick, P. B. (2013). Alcohol and sleep I: Effects on normal sleep. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 37(4), 539-549. doi: 10.1111/acer.12006
Huang K, Ihm J. Sleep and injury risk. Current sports medicine reports. 2021 Jun 1;20(6):286-90.
Kalmbach, D. A., Anderson, J. R., & Drake, C. L. (2018). The impact of stress on sleep: Pathogenic sleep reactivity as a vulnerability to insomnia and circadian disorders. Journal of Sleep Research, 27(6), e12710. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsr.12710
National Sleep Foundation. (2021). How to create a sleep-friendly bedroom. Sleep Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-create-sleep-friendly-bedroom
Watson et al. titled “Sleep Duration and musculoskeletal injury incidence in physically active men and Women: a prospective study” published in the journal Sleep in 2017.
The information provided in this blog is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical guidance, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a trained healthcare professional before making any changes to your medical treatment plan. The authors of this blog and the website on which it appears are not liable for any consequences arising from the use or reliance on the information provided.