Sleep: The Crucial Element for Optimal Performance


Sleep: The Crucial Element for Optimal Performance

Sleep is a really bizarre activity. For several hours, while the sun is gone, your going to become unconscious, temporarily lose command of everything you know and understand. Then when the sun returns, you will resume life as normal. During sleep you experience several stages and cycles of sleep and temporarily lose control of your skeletal muscles. You pass through alternate realms through your dreams and your body releases a human growth hormone- which can improve fitness and sports performance.

Sleep can be your best friend or your worst enemy. When it comes to exercise performance, sleep can become your most important training partner. It can be argued that it’s not training that improves your performance; it’s sleep we get each night that improves our outcomes.

Here are several tips to getting a better nights rest and ultimately improve your athletic performance.

  • Limit caffeine, particularly in the afternoon or evening
  • Limit alcohol. Especially avoid excessive consumption before bed
  • Try to quit tobacco use; nicotine is a stimulant
  • Don’t use a computer, cell phone or handheld device in the 90 minutes before bedtime. LED lighting “tells” the brain to stay awake.
  • Limit television viewing before bed.
  • Lower the temperature in the house or bedroom before and during sleep. The body likes cooler temperatures. Many sleep doctors suggest lowing body temperature 90 minutes before bedtime.
  • Use the bed only for sleeping, lovemaking, and perhaps reading before bed.
  • Nap only 15-20 minutes in the early afternoon, if necessary.
  • Keep a sleep diary to track patterns.
  • Eat 3-4 hours before bed and avoid heavy meals. Some evidence suggest that a light carbohydrate snack before bed helps sleep.
  • If possible, protect sleep from intrusions (unexpected noises) consider ear plugs
  • If you don’t fall asleep within 30 minutes, get out of bed and do something else until your body and mind feel tired.
  • Meditate, listen to soothing music, or create other nighttime rituals that signal it’s time to sleep.
  • Take a hot bath 90-120 minutes before bed.
  • Use blackout curtains to block light.
  • Buy and use a reliable, effective alarm clock.
  • Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillow.
  • Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday. It helps put the body into a routine.

How much sleep we need varies from person to person. Generally speaking, most adults need 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. Short sleep and poor quality sleep appear to be endemic in modern society. Most adults get about 6.5 hours of sleep per night. Many people also think that decreasing their sleep to minimum tolerability is harmless and also efficient because they can get more done during the day. However, sleep loss accumulated into sleep debt. Over a 5 day- workweek, a nightly sleep los of 90 minutes builds into a 7.5-hour sleep debt by the weekend. This equals to losing on full night of sleep during the workweek. Losing 2 hours of sleep a night (sleeping 6 hours instead of 8) significantly impairs performance, attention, working memory, long-term memory and decision-making. 


Some may think that people who sleep less have more time to exercise, thus reducing the risk of weight gain. However, inadequate sleep has been linked to an increased risk of being overweight or obese. There is compelling evidence that chronic lack of sleep alters hormones in the blood that control appetite and promote weight gain. Chronic poor sleep, or lack of sleep, triggers more signals to the brain to eat and reduces signals that enough food has been consumed.  When sleep is poor cortisol appears to be higher than normal. High cortisol levels increase cravings for “comfort” foods. Additionally, sleep deprivation decreases levels of leptin, a satiety-promoting hormone. It also increases the levels of ghrelin, an appetite-promoting hormone. Insufficient sleep can lead to an average weight gain of 1.8 pounds thanks to the changes in hunger and in the satiety hormones ghrelin and leptin.

Improvements in fitness and sports performance depend on a combination of several factors, including exercise, nutrition, hydration and spiritual fulfillment/personal growth. If you are sleeping poorly or not sleeping long enough, it is important to address the issue. Since humane growth hormones help build and repair muscle mass, tissue and cells, imagine how simply getting 60-120 minutes more of quality sleep could improve your performance.

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