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Sleep and Athletic Performance

Updated: Mar 31, 2022

Sleep Quality Estimation by Repose Platform
Stages of sleep

Can passivity enhance your performance?

Ironical, but yes. Besides the workouts, intense exercises and practice sessions, the passive activity of good sleep can take your performance to higher levels.

Basketball players’ shooting improved by 9% in those who spent 10 hours every day for sleep. Faster diving blocks were observed in swimmers who slept 10 hours every night. Serves accuracy increased to 42% in varsity tennis players who spent at least 9 hours sleeping than those who didn’t. Takeaway?

Sleep isn’t a factor to be compromised with. It is a factor that requires an investment of your time for good returns. Sleep is an essential human function. Just like a balanced diet and exercise, sleep is a pre-eminent force for a healthy life.

To fit in more activities during the wake hours, athletes tend to reduce their sleeping hours. Jet lags during international tournaments, sleeplessness due to competition anxiety, and absence of recovery also make an athlete fall into sleep debt. Disruptions between sleep reduce the quality of sleep. And, these take an immediate as well as the long-time toll on the performance of the athletes.

Some of the effects of inadequate sleep on the athletes are:

1. Diminishes cognitive ability

A night’s sleep consists of 4–6 sleep cycles of durations between 70–120 minutes. During the REM and non-REM stages, chemicals are released which initiate the recovery of the brain and body. When there is a lack/disruption of sleep, the above process is disturbed, and the neurons lack proper recovery. Thus, cognitive impairment occurs. Cognitive ability is most required in football, baseball, hockey, in almost every sport.

Effect: Reaction-time, decision making, focus on the game gets affected.

2. Increase in cortisol

Sleep is a good regulator of cortisol levels in the body. Lack of sleep leads to the chronic amount of cortisol in the body, which breaks down muscles and stores fat. This is detrimental to athletic performance. Sleep deprivation makes one feel hungry even if they have consumed enough calories leading to undesired weight gain. On similar lines, if an athlete is trying to reduce the surplus weight (fat mass) through controlled dieting but lacks proper sleep, the weight loss shall be from the lean body mass and not the fat mass. This is detrimental to the muscular health of an athlete.

Effect: Increased cortisol levels lead to high-stress levels. Undesired weight, not only a problem by itself but also one of the psychologically affecting factors amongst athletes.

3. Low testosterone

Testosterone is the anabolic hormone that increases to its optimum level through adequate sleep. When sleep debt occurs or the quality is affected, the muscle-building hormone, testosterone, in the body decreases. And this makes adequate sleep an inevitable factor for better performance.

Effect: Less agility and strength of the muscles during the performance.

4. Inflammation

Inflammation is the ‘fight response’ of our body against any invader that has entered the body. Inflammation relies on the immunity system of our body which in turn is regulated by the circadian rhythm of our body. So when sleep is disrupted, the circadian rhythm and other factors dependent on it is disrupted. Thus, lack of adequate sleep increases inflammation levels in the body.

Effect: Risk of illness or immunosuppression, risk of injuries

5. Mood disturbances

Inadequate sleep is prone to make athletes lose motivation and momentum. Endurance sports like cycling, skiing, running requires the mental push to go forward when you feel like the wall has been hit. It is then the importance of sleep comes into play. Lack of sleep disturbs your mood and motivation.

Effect: Decision-making errors, feeling sluggish or lazy, quicker exhaustion

A good sleep at the end of the day is an early investment towards better performance. It’s the time for internal recuperation-both physically and mentally. The best prescription to prevent illness and the restorative potion every athlete needs daily. For “Train like an athlete, eat like a nutritionist, and sleep like a baby to win like a champion” never went wrong.

Remember: Sleep is not wasting time, it's building performance passively.

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