We all know that sleep is important for our health, but do you know how much it affects athletic performance? More than just feeling rested, how does sleep affect recovery? Endurance? Motivation? How about our ability to lose weight or rejuvenate our muscles?
Sleep is like the charger cord to our bodies, connecting our physical self to our hormonal, neurological and psychological selves as well. Basically, it “charges our batteries.” We need 7-9 hours of adequate Z’s every night, according to The National Sleep Foundation. But we take for granted the various processes that our bodies undergo while we’re off in dreamland.
So why is sleep important for performance in athletes?
Here are some of the important roles that sleep plays in our daily performance:
Tissue repair and growth
While we sleep, our brains release a very vital growth hormone called HGH (human growth hormone). This hormone is responsible for growing and repairing the muscle tissues we damage during workouts. Experts estimate that as much as 75% of HGH is released during sleep, so it’s no wonder that coaches stress the importance of sleep for our recovery. Lack of sleep slows HGH production, taking us longer to recover and harder to push those muscles to their full capabilities.
Coordination and response
Deep sleep allows our central nervous system (CNS) to recuperate from the daily strain we put on our bodies. During workouts, our CNS is responsible for things like reaction time, pain response and muscle contractions; so without a chance to recharge these systems, we become slower, weaker and less coordinated until we give our bodies the amount of sleep it needs.
Reduce injury risk
With a weakened, sleepy system as mentioned before, it’s no surprise that we run the risk of injury during a workout. Our attention to detail, reaction time and overall energy are low when we don’t feel rested. Our chances of executing our lifts safely and within our limits are lowered when we do not get enough sleep.
Lack of sleep changes how we find and use energy within us. Hormonally, this means that we may become glucose intolerant, which is the quickest road towards diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
Being sleep-deprived, you are more likely to gain weight. This is for two main reasons: 1) there is a disruption of ghrelin and leptin, which are the hormones responsible for how hungry you feel. This leads to overeating and cravings for high-calorie foods that we don’t necessarily need. And 2) you are less likely to work out when you are both sleepy and hungry! Let’s face it, we’ve all chosen a drive-through over the gym after work at some point!
Learning any new workout or physical skill has a huge cognitive component. In order to commit what you have learned to your long term memory, you have to…yes you guessed it: Get plenty of sleep!
Tips to getting better sleep (that actually work)
Now that we know why we should absolutely be getting enough sleep, let’s look at how? I’ve come across some evidence-based tips to getting a better night sleep.
1. Fact: Natural (bright) sunlight during the day improves energy and nighttime sleep quality.
2. Fact:Blue light–emitted from smartphones and computers–tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daytime.
Pro Tip: Download an app like f.lux, which blocks blue light on the devices you watch before bed. Or in your phone Settings, switch to Night Shift feature (for iPhones). Also, limit bright lights 2 hours before heading to bed (to the best of your ability!)
3. Fact: Your body’s circadian rhythm functions on a set loop, aligning itself with sunrise and sunset.
Pro Tip: Get in the habit of getting up and going to sleep at the exact same time each night to reset your natural rhythm. Results can be seen after just a few weeks.
4. Fact:Using melatonin supplements is the most natural way to tell your brain when it’s time to sleep, as opposed to other OTC sleep aids.
Pro Tip: Use while traveling to adjust to new time zones. Start with low doses and take 30-60 mins before bed.
5. Fact: Drinking alcohol before bed can disrupt sleep patterns, reduce melatonin production and decrease natural elevations in HGH (human growth hormone), which plays a role in your circadian rhythm as well.
Pro Tip: Limit the drinks close to bedtime.
The Bottom Line
CrossFit can get intense, and there are easy ways to ensure that you are performing at your best. The benefits of sleep on your physical and mental health are invaluable, for all walks of life and in any part of your CrossFit journey.
Have some tips for getting better Zs at night? Let us know!