Sleep and athletic performance are highly related. A good sleep improves the quality of your training, improves body compositon and brings many more health benefits.
Some people refuse sleeping your recommended 7-9h because they believe it's a waste of time. However, sleep is one of the best things you can do. This is explained by the supercompensation theory, concept being explained further in this post.
If you are an athlete, sleep is even more important for you. In this post we'll see the relation between sleep and athletic performance, and practical applications to improve it.
BASIS OF HEALTH
Short and easy: if you want to improve your health you should sleep more, be constant with your trainings and follow a balanced diet.
And we should see this as a table of three legs. When one of them is missing, the other two cannot replace it, and the table will fall. But we don't want that. Our goal is to keep the table as robust and still as possible.
We have talked a lot about nutrition and training in this blog, but we haven't covered deeply how sleep can affect your physical performance and health. Before getting started, I want you to first think about this: why do we sleep?
WHY DO WE SLEEP?
We need to sleep. In fact, we can survive longer without eating than sleeping (source). Only 11 days without sleeping is the record known to date. But you don't need to stay awake all 11 days to start noticing the severe consequences of sleep deprivation. After 3-4 days, consequences such as irratibility, paranoia, or cognitive impairements start to appear.
But why do we need to sleep?.
The answer is easy: to recover and recharge (source). Our everyday is full of stress, physical and social activity, and other actions consuming energy. Our organism is constantly functioning during the day, and cannot work forever. So we need to give all the structures of our organism a rest to recover and recharge to keep functioning the following day.
And before getting into more details, let me tell you something. Sleep not only enables us to recover, but also bring us more benefits. It improves our creativity (study), cognition (study), physical capabilities (study) and body composition (study)
SLEEP AND ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE
Do you want to improve your athletic performance? Then you should consider prioritize sleep and get your 7-9h daily.
There's no prove to date that sleep improves biochemical markers directly related with athletic performance. How sleep improves athletic performance is by enhancing our physical capabilities, lowering fatigue (study) and improving muscle recovery (study).
Training is important, and we need it to build muscle. But not everything is done at the gym. All our actions and lifestyle contribute to our body composition and athletic performance. And sleep is one of the 'big ones'.
Muscle adaptations are not produced while we train. Training is the trigger, but it's not until we are resting when muscle tissue is created and muscle hypertrophy occurs (study).
The acute response post-workout sets our metabolism ready to induce adaptations. It elevates oxidative response actting as a signal to other molecular structures (study). There's enough evidence in both rats and humans to say that catabolic hormones production is enhanced during sleep deprivation, leading to a lower muscle recovery process (study). These are, among others, lower glucse tolerance and insulin sensitivity, increased cortisol, increased ghrelin and decreased lepin.
Getting enough sleep can help us achieving a proper anabolic enviroment in where metabolic pathways in charge of protein synthesis and recovery are functioning properly.
THE SUPERCOMPENSATION THEORY
As we discussed in the prior section, training itself doesn't bring us any adaptations nor muscle growth. The acute respone from training and the recovery afterwards is what increases the performance, anabolic signalling and other biochemical factors to increase muscle size and strength overtime.
Looking at this graph you can guess how important is the recovery time for our progress at the gym. Doesn't matter how much we train that if we are not having enough recovery, supercompensation won't take place and we won't build any adaptations (source).
In this study performed with athletes, they found that sleep deprivation of 24h lowered the recovery process (study), showing a lower VO2 uptake and lactate accumulation.
If we want to be in the green line (picture below), we need to make sure there's a right balance between training and recovery. And getting enough is crucial to achieve this. Sleep deprivation was associated with lower muscle adaptations and muscle strength (study)(study)
Fatigue is one the 'must-avoid' when we are training. The lower fatigue we accumulate along the session the more quality we'll get in each set performed.
Fatigue cannot be avoided to a full extent, but we can sort it out to delay it and lower it. And here is where a good sleep comes into play.
So far we have seen how sleep deprivation can affect msucle recovery and the supercompensation post-workout. Muscle fatigue is also affected by sleep deprivation. Showing lower levels of accumualted blood lactate, it's been associated with higher percieved exertion during training (study).
However, there are some controversial results here. In this study (study) they found that sleep deprivation would not affect psychomotor performance nor handgrip strength. This suggests that our body could still build muscle mass under sleep deprived status. although it wouldn't be optimal.
In my own opinion (out of any scientific evidence), sleep deprivation could have a significant impact on muscle fatigue and performance. Being both events related with neural adaptation and central nervous system, it was seen how the nervous system function was deteriotated by sleep deprivation (study). If our nervous system is not functioning properly, muscle fiber activation won't be optimal and muscle fatigue may occur at a faster rate. But as I said, this is just my hypothesis and more evidence is needed.
Muscle performance is defined as the capacity of the muscle to do work (source). As we saw earlier, sleep plays a role in regulating fatigue and muscle recovery, but does it directly relate to muscle performance and adaptations?
When we look at muscle performance on resistance training we are interested in muscle mass and muscle strength. In this study (study), it was concluded that sleep deprivation was associated with lower muscle strength. However, this effect was only significant in multi-joint exercise. These exercises involve to a greater extent the central nervous system, mechanism by which sleep deprivation could affect your performance. In other sports discipline, enough sleep was associated with better accuracy, learning, and time (study).
Although it doesn't seem to affect muscle mass directly, sleep deprivation could also affect hormonal production. Release of catabolic hormones and lowered anabolic hormones has been observed (study)
- Recommendations on sleep are between 7-9h each day
- Nutrition, training and sleep are the three basis of health
- Sleep deprivation is associated with lower muscle recovery and suboptimal muscle hypertrophy
- The supercompensation effect is deteriorated under sleep deprivation conditions
Last I want to give you some practical applications to help you improving your sleep and therefore avoid all the adverse effects mentioned. Following this quick tips you'll be able to start sleeping better and feeling more recovered for your next training session. And remember, sleep is not only important for athletes. Every action in our life is improved when we have enough sleep.
AVOID BLUE LIGHT AT NIGHT
Blue light is present mostly in any electronic devices and some lamps with a 'white' bright. If you need to work or/and use any electronic devices late at night, I highly recommend blue light glasses. They have been shown to impede the supression of melatonin by being exposed to blue light (study).
NO STIMULANT SUBSTANCES
Stimulants such as coffee, energy drinks, tea,.. contain high doses of caffeine or any analog (study). This substance acts by antagonizing adenosine receptors. When the interaction of adenosine and its receptor is blocked, we avoid the relaxing and calming effects of adenosine.
We can take advantatge of these substances strategically. However, taking high doses of caffeine before sleep can deteriorate your sleep quality, making it harder to sleep and induce deep sleep stages.
Recommendations conclude to avoid caffeine beverages 5-6h before bedtime. This way we can ensure that all caffeine has been flushed out and completely metabolized in our body (study)
BUILD A GOOD SLEEP ENVIRONMENT
Building a good environment can help you achieving greater sleep. The three aspects to consider here are light, noise and temperature.
Our eyelids are able to capture light even when they are closed (study). If we want to make sure that our sleep is deep and of good quality, close the windows and avoid any light coming in the next morning. Bright light exposure in the morning has been associated with reduced sleep (study).
And artificial lights also count. It doesn't matter how good you close you courtains i you are going to have a nice lamp on all night long. Artifical light exposure overnight has been proved to disturb sleep phases and lower sleep duration (study)
Noise is a harmful cause of sleep deprivation. Acoustic stimuli are captured by the brain, increasing brain and metabolic activity. And the problem comes here...
When we are asleep, we are sensitive to low levels of sleep. Even those so low that they are unnoticeable can be sensed by our brain during sleep (study)
Thermal environment also affects sleep quality. Heat or cold exposure increase wakefulness and decrease rapid eye movement (study). And this is strongly related with thermoregulation, mechanism by which we are able to regulate our sleep cycles.
Optimum temperatures are between 20-23ºC, in where you can feel more comfortable and satisfied during sleep (Study)
- Avoid blue light late at night
- Build a good sleep environment. Dark room with no lights nor noise.
- Regulate your room temperature to have it between 20-23ºC
- Stop driking caffeine beverages 5-6h before bedtime
Sleep and athletic performance are highly related. As we have seen in this post, sleep deprivation can decrease muscle recovery, muscle performance increase fatigue and avoid the supercompensation effect.
Recommendations of 7-9h are sufficient to avoid all these adverse effects and boost your training performance. Some tools to improve your sleep duration and quality are, among others:
- regulate temperature, noise and sound
- avoid stimulants late on the day
- avoid blue light before bedtime
I hope you enjoyed the post. If you still have any doubts please leave your comments down in the comments section.