#99: Why Sleep is So Important for Athletes

#99: Why Sleep is So Important for Athletes

You train like a champ. You lift heavy, run mile after mile, cycle up the steepest hills, and swim endless laps. Your nutrition? Flawless. Why, then, have your gains stalled? If you’re skimping on rest, this is very likely the culprit. Sleep is important — nay, vital — for muscle recovery. 

But why? 

To understand why athletes need sleep, we first need to understand what happens to the human body when we train.

Fitness Stresses Our Bodies in Multiple Ways

Some types of stress are good; and with physical activity, you’re stressing your body in a positive way.

With strength training, for example, you’re creating micro-tears in your muscles. The stimulus of heavy weights or high resistance leaves you sore and fatigued, your muscles inflamed.

Furthermore, because your body is pulling glycogen from your muscles to keep them moving, this storage eventually depletes.

Physical activity also stresses your hormones. According to research, cortisol, prolactin, growth hormone, and testosterone all rise.

Your central nervous system (CNS) also feels it. Like the rest of your body, it, too, eventually poops out. Have you ever set up for a heavy lift, grabbed onto the bar, and then just… quit? Almost like your body shut off and you can’t get it to do what you want it to do?

That could very likely be your central nervous system telling you that you’ve had enough.

Within reason, all of this stress can be a great thing for your body. Human beings weren’t built to be immobile, sedentary, unmoving creatures. It’s only natural that when you train, your body feels the effects. This is why we get fitter…

… assuming that you get enough sleep.

Why Sleep is So Important for Athletes’ Muscle Recovery

Write this down: Training is when you stress your body. Sleep is when you build it back up.

Without the latter, the former will lead to overtraining. Overtraining can be not just a pesky nuisance but downright threatening to your health. We’re talking:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Soreness that just won’t go away
  • Persistent injuries
  • Out-of-control hormones
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Mood swings
  • Depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems
  • Disruptions to your monthly cycle

Make no mistake about it: Overtraining is real, as is Overtraining Syndrome. This can lead to adrenal insufficiency, which can then lead to adrenal fatigue. We won’t get into adrenal fatigue too much, but here’s the gist of it: You feel really tired and weak for a long time, and only drastic changes to your lifestyle will set you on the road to healing.

Without sleep, your mind and body simply won’t have the chance to recover. Period.

Those glycogen storages? They won’t have the opportunity to replenish themselves. Try to tackle another workout with insufficient sleep, and you’re bound to feel lethargic and weak.

And what about your hormones? Sleep is when they rebalance themselves. In particular, with a lack of sleep, you’re more likely to experience an increase in cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. An excess amount of cortisol can lead to fatigue, weight gain, mood swings, muscle weakness, mental fog, and irregular periods.

In particular, deep sleep is crucial, because this is when your body releases human growth hormone, which absolutely has an impact on athletic performance. Human growth hormone is a big factor in your healing, recovery, and — perhaps unsurprisingly — growth.

(Side note: Deep sleep happens during Stage 3, which is a non-REM sleep period. It happens during the first half of the night, and this is when your heartbeat, breathing, and brain waves are at their slowest and most relaxed.)

And let’s talk about your central nervous system. We already discussed how training taxes your CNS. Sleep restores your energy, and this applies to your CNS, which is responsible for triggering muscle contractions. It also plays a role in reaction time, as well as how you respond to pain. Sufficient sleep means that your CNS will help you move faster, feel stronger, and be more coordinated.

Furthermore, there’s research suggesting that improper sleep can make it difficult for your body to properly utilize the food you eat. In other words, you can have the perfect training schedule and your nutrition could be flawless. But if you’re not getting enough sleep (and enough quality sleep), then it’s almost a moot point.

It’s hopefully crystal clear by this point why sleep is important for athletes not just in terms of muscle recovery and sports performance, but your overall health as a whole.

How to Prioritize Sleep and Recovery

Going to bed a little earlier tonight is a good start, but giving your body the rest it needs is about more than this. Here are a few simple tips.

Put Your Gadgets Away an Hour Before Bed

You likely already know that you shouldn’t be on your phone in bed, but do you know exactly why? 

The blue light that your tech emits suppresses the release of melatonin. Melatonin is your body’s signal that it’s time for sleep. So, without that melatonin giving you the nudge, even after you’ve put your phone away, you might end up awake for hours, staring at the ceiling and unable to fall asleep.

Commit to putting your phone, tablet, etc. away about an hour before bedtime, so that you don’t disturb the much-needed melatonin.

Adjust the Thermostat

Did you know that by turning down the temperature a bit, you can get better sleep? This is because in the evening, our bodies experience a natural dip in core temperature. By turning down the heat in your room, you can tell your body that it’s time to wind down and get ready for sleep.

For better results, set the temperature in your bedroom to about 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 degrees Celsius).

Mind Your Nutrition

Nutrition is such a personal approach, and we’re not here to tell you how to eat. Rather, we want to leave you with this: If you’re going to bed starving, or you’re going to bed on a really full stomach, some research suggests that these extremes can disturb sleep.

If this sounds like you, it might be worth tweaking your eating schedule to see if it helps.

We know that it’s easy to get caught in this loop of constant training. You become addicted to the results and assume that more is better. Not so. Rest assured that sleep is not only vital for your health, but that it’s also making you stronger and faster.

We’re with you the whole way. PowerDot is here to make recovery faster and easier than ever. 

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