DR. LISBETH HOYT, PT, DPT, CSCS
If sitting is the new “smoking” health risk, sleep is the new performance-enhancing tool we don’t focus on enough. Getting enough sleep is essential for everyone to function, yet in our busy work/training lives, sleep is usually one of the last things we make time for. For runners and athletes, it’s the easiest recovery tool you most likely aren’t utilizing. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine states that adults require 7-9 hours of sleep for optimal performance. Performance doesn’t just mean exercise; it also includes the mental and physical performance needed to get through your daily routine.
Numerous studies have found that sleep deprivation leads to slower muscle recovery, increased levels of stress hormones, and an increase in perceived exertion during exercise. A study at Stanford University examined 11 varsity basketball players over a 7+ week period of time. After maintaining a 2-4 week sleep baseline, the athletes were instructed to get as much sleep as possible for the following 5-7 weeks, with a minimum goal of 10 hours in bed each night. The study found that changing nothing else but sleep habits resulted in improved performance, especially in sprint speed and shooting accuracy, in addition to an improvement in mood and general fatigue.
While our college days of sleeping for 10 hours a night may be behind us, there are other ways we can make sure the sleep we are able to get is high quality, even if sometimes we don’t hit that 7-hour mark. But what exactly is happening when we sleep?
Sleep is categorized into 5 stages based on certain characteristics of the body and brain firing patterns during each. We cycle through 5 different stages of sleep: stages 1, 2, 3, 4 and REM (rapid eye movements) multiple times a night. Scientists have found that a complete sleep cycle takes an average of 90-110 minutes. As the night goes on, REM periods should increase in length as deep sleep decreases.
Numerous studies have now linked the effects of blue light, the light that comes from our screens, to the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Blue light affects how long it takes us to fall asleep and can result in less REM (dream state) sleep. Often this is why we feel more tired in the morning, even if we clocked enough time in bed,
If your work/training schedule makes 7-9 hours of sleep impossible, try small changes. Decrease screen time for 1-2 hours before you go to sleep, limit caffeine intake in the afternoons, and train earlier in the day if possible.
*Source: Mah, C. D., Mah, K. E., Kezirian, E. J., & Dement, W. C. (2011). The Effects of Sleep Extension on the Athletic Performance of Collegiate Basketball Players. Sleep, 34(7), 943-950. doi:10.5665/sleep.1132