Why is sleep so important for an athlete?

Adequate rest and recovery is essential for recovering from training, activity and life in general!  The first 4 hours of sleep are generally where most of your muscle recovery occurs.  The second 4 hours of sleep is where your brain recovery occurs.  This part of sleep restores your ability to cope with day-to-day functioning, reduces stress and anxiety, cements any new learning that may have occurred that day and assists with memory.

The research has shown us that sleep deprivation (6h or less) over 4 or more nights can impaired immune function; increase injury risk; affect a person’s glucose metabolism and appetite regulation; can alter a person’s pain perception; affects a person’s training adaptations & recover and can m cause a person’s maximal O2 uptake to be decreased, therefore the body has to work harder to maintain same exercise intensity.

Dietary considerations:

  • Plan fluid / food: so less bathroom disturbances add salt if required
  • Protein intake: If your bedtime is 3 or more hours since you last ate, you may benefit from a protein based food prior to sleep.  This might be some milk, yoghurt, a protein shake or a handful of nuts.
  • Kiwifruit: There is some research to show that 2 kiwifruit prior to bed may be helpful for sleep efficiency.  This may be due to its anti-inflammatory properties and that it encourages serotonin production.
  • Omega 3’s:  Also a powerful anti-inflammatory which may assist sleep quality.
  • Polyphenols:  Polyphenols are an anti-oxidant often found in berries and cherries.  These appear to improve sleep also.
  • Food high in tryptophan:  help promote sleep e.g. oats, milk, bananas, cheese, bread, chicken, peanuts, tuna.

There are also some factors that inhibit sleep:

  • Intensive exercise before bed: i.e. late game/ late training session 
  • Stress: Strategies to help manage stress (both physical and mentally) can be helpful to reduce stress related insomnia. This is where your performance stress can be helped by utilizing your Sport Psychologist.
  • A large meal immediately before bed:  If you are eating late, try to keep your meal size comfortable rather than feeling full.  This is likely due to the increase in body temperate that digestion creates.
  • Red meat: A high red meat diet, in particular in the meal before bed may inhibit quality sleep.
  • Caffeine: Caffeine intake in the 8 hours prior to sleep is not recommended.  It may affect your ability to fall asleep but it also negatively affects your quality of sleep. However, caffeine can enhance performance therefore as an individual you will need to determine the necessity of caffeine and consider dosage and timing.
  • Alcohol:  Will affect your quality of sleep and ability to get in to restful sleep patterns. Alcohol can have a sedating effect and may promote sleep onset; however, Net effect is deterioration in sleep quality as it changes sleep architecture and also exacerbates other sleep disorders such as OSA and parasomnias.
  • Smoking: Also affects your ability to get a quality nights sleep.

Written By Rebecca Disher

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