Sleep like an Athlete

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Thanks Danell Leyva for being the best Olympian

On Saturday, I overheard some party-goers discussing sleep. They were touting the utility of sleep deprivation, joking as if it were funny. The gist of their comments was that less sleep means more time to work. Although there are two problems with this premise (the first being that one should spend all non-sleep time working), the second is the primary problem: scientific evidence establishes that lack of sleep produces a host of ill consequences. Insufficient sleep may:

The best quote from any article I read was:

“Very extraordinary boy. . . . Goes on errands fast asleep, and snores as he waits at table . . . a wonderfully fat boy.” Charles Dickens penned the first description of the Pickwickian syndrome, a syndrome that provides one of many intriguing links between nutrition and slep. Though patients suffering from it may be improved by dieting their basic disorder is a neuro-physiological one that gives rise to overeating, to daytime sleepiness, and to characteristic nocturnal sleep made up of an endless sequence of apnoea, abortive grunts, and explosive snorts. —Nutrition and Sleep (1972) British Medical Journal.

But for the purposes of this blog, the most important ill effect is that lack of sleep diminishes athletic performance. Getting enough sleep produces optimal performance. In the WebMD article on the topic, the author states:

“Not only do athletes need sleep to improve on their athletic skills, but the restoration that occurs within muscles during deep sleep is important,” says Sara Mednick, PhD, a sleep researcher at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif. “If you don’t get enough sleep it can be detrimental to your performance.”

 The WebMD article lists ways the researchers used to improve the athletes’ sleep.

Not only can lack of sleep negatively affect your athletic performance, but extra sleep may actually improve your athletic performance. For instance in one study:

Athletic performance was assessed after each regularly scheduled swim practice. After obtaining extra sleep, athletes swam a 15-meter meter sprint 0.51 seconds faster, reacted 0.15 seconds quicker off the blocks, improved turn time by 0.10 seconds and increased kick strokes by 5.0 kicks.

Scooby has an excellent article on burning extra fat by getting enough sleep:

Turns out that when you are sleep deprived your leptin decrease[s] and your ghrelin levels increase which causes your metabolism to slow down. It also makes you hungrier so that you eat more. Sleep deprivation is a double-bad for people trying to lose weight – it makes you burn off fewer calories AND it makes you eat more, so you get FAT!  (See his references.)

Ghrelin is a hormone which regulates hunger. The more hunger, the more you want to eat. Sleep deprived people have whacked ghrelin levels and an increased difficulty with weight loss. Leptin is a hormone which regulates energy intake — and an decrease in leptin causes your metabolism to slow down.

Sleep deprivation causes the body to burn muscle:

Sleep deprivation makes you burn muscle rather than fat! If you are dieting while sleep deprived, you will burn twice as much muscle and only half as much fat.

And do we really have to describe the importance of muscle to cyclists? Really? If so, read here.

Scooby touts a book called the seven habits of some-kind of effective people. I personally hate self-help books, so I won’t advocate it here. But Scooby does have some pointers on how to get better sleep. Try them out. Various things which have worked for me are:

  • Giving myself some breathing room before bed time by spacing out with a good book.
  • Imagining myself floating over the house, and then slowly rising up to view the earth, then the solar system, then the galaxy.
  • Trying to clear my mind of all thought.
  • Taking a hot shower before bed.
  • Washing my feet in cold water before bed.
  • Telling an imaginary computer to lower the temperature, suffuse the room with sleep aids, or anesthetize me.
  • Avoiding stress right before bed.
  • Not drinking too much alcohol right before bed.
  • Being well hydrated.
  • Getting enough exercise during the day.
  • Taking ibuprofen when needed for exercise-related aches and pains.
I have many other little things which help.
If stress is the thing which keeps you awake, consider what the stressors are and how you can eliminate them. Life is too short!

Carpe diem quam minimum credulo postero. —Horace.


3 thoughts on “Sleep like an Athlete

    Sleep Like you Mean it « Bear's ALC Page said:
    February 8, 2015 at 5:44 pm

    […] Sleep Like an Athlete […]

    […] Sleep like an Athlete. Includes information about hunger, hormones, and proper nutrition. […]

    […] Eat: If you find yourself cramping (or with attitude problems) on the hills, the first thing to look at is: am I getting enough calories. You may think you are, but if you’re eating your regular diet or less, then you probably are not getting enough to eat. Proper nutrition on the bike stars the night before you cycle. Breakfast is nearly as important. Plus you should have Gu or some similar at least every hour. Read more about cycling nutrition and here. […]

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