How many of you have asked your parents to stay up for a little longer or to skip your nap time at school when you were young? And today how many of you wish they had a bed at school to take a nap? Sleeping is something we love to do, but something we underestimate its importance and neglect it. Sleeping is a basic need for human and our way of living today is not helping us to get the amount of sleep we need. It is important for athletes to understand how sleep affects performance and recovery, know which factors could affect sleep quality and be able to develop optimal sleeping habits. As athletes, we sometimes need to travel during night, sleep in hotels and wake up early for training. That is why we need to learn to master the art of sleeping. We deal with school, work, practices, training, and it is sometimes hard to get the amount of sleep we need. This is why I will present you a few facts and a few tips about sleeping in order for you to get the proper amount of sleep to always be in your optimal performance state.
So what is sleep?
First, sleep is defined as “…the natural and regular state of inactivity in which consciousness ceases and the bodily functions slow down or cease” (Watson, 1976:1042). This means that being in your bed on your cellphone is not considered as sleeping. So the first thing you need to do is limit the amount of time you are spending on your cellphone. You would be very surprise to find out the amount of time you waste on your cellphone. It is just a distraction that quickly reduces the precious amount of time you have to sleep. So please, put away your cellphone when it is time to go to bed.
Second, there are two different types of sleep that are divided in different stages. One of them is called the non-rapid eye movement sleep or the NREM sleep. The NREM-sleep is considered to be the time during which the body can repair and restore itself (Gunning, 2001). Sleep deprivation is therefore regarded as a stressor that has a significant detrimental effect on physiological growth and repair. This means that if you neglect your sleep, it will take more time for your body to recover from your training or your injury. To help your body recover you need to get a good sleep where you go through all of those stages without any disruptions.
So how many hours of sleep does an athlete need?
Athletes require 9 to 10 hours of sleep, 80-90% of it during the night. The balance may be completed by naps during the day. A 20-minute nap about eight hours after nocturnal sleep should have positive effects on performance. A relative short daytime nap (20 minutes) can be beneficial to the learning of visual and motor skills (Walker & Stickgold, 2005), alertness (Reissner, 2006), as well as improved performance levels, self-confidence and daytime vigilance levels (Hayashi et al., 1999). Therefore, you need to plan in your schedule some nap times if you did not get all of your hours of sleep at night.
Plus, athletes should get up in the morning at the same time, even if they have experienced low quality sleep the previous night in order to establish consistent sleep and wake-up times (Nicol, 1988; Reisser, 2006). Therefore, you need to plan your schedule so that you go to bed and you wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This means that if you have a practice at 7 and wake up at 6, you should wake up at 6 every day of the week. In short, if you wake up at 6 in the morning you should be going to bed to sleep 9 or 10 hours before that. Your body will get in a routine that will help him function better.
Study more or get a good night of sleep?
Sometimes student-athletes go to bed pass midnight in order to study for their exams. Personally, I haven’t done this in a while. The reason is that learning capacity and academic performance may consequently be negatively affected by sleep deprivation (Curcio et al., 2006). During sleep, newly formed memories are being organised in the brain resulting in better recall and more accurate memory the next day (Andrews, 2005). A sleepless night is not the solution to get a good mark on your exam. Instead, do your best to manage your time to study during the day. You will retain information more effectively, plus you won’t be tired during your exam and for the rest of the day and the week.
What to do to get good quality of sleep?
There are tons of thing you can do to get a good quality of sleep. You need to learn what works for you. Going to bed with too many thoughts in your mind is not good. There are plenty of relaxation exercises you can do before you go to bed to fall asleep faster. You also need to make sure that the temperature in the room is nor too cold or nor too hot. Also, light plays a big role on your sleep. If you have to go to bed when there is still light outside, make sure your windows have curtains to block the light. Medication should be the very last solution for your sleeping problems.
I could have mentioned a tons of things about the importance of sleep, but this blog would be too long. During my first year in university, I felt tired all the time even though I was eating super healthy. In the middle of the past season, I started reading studies about sleeping. I realized how important it is for me as an athlete to have good quality of sleep. I started being careful about the amount of hours, the quality of my sleep and my naps. I suddenly saw a big difference in my mood, my energy, my performance in hockey and at school. I did not do one sleepless night for studying in that session and my marks were better than ever. This is why I highly encourage everyone to be more careful about their sleep. Make yourself a routine and follow it every day. It can make a huge difference. On that, have a great night of sleep!
Venter, R. E. (2012). ROLE OF SLEEP IN PERFORMANCE AND RECOVERY OF ATHLETES: A REVIEW ARTICLE. South African Journal For Research In Sport, Physical Education & Recreation (SAJR SPER), 34(1), 167-184.
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