The importance of sleep to our mental and physical health can’t be over emphasised. Sleep plays an essential role in our physical health, emotional well-being and our cognitive abilities. If you’re training hard, and eating well, failing to get enough quality sleep could be the reason you are not achieving the results you hoped for. This blog will explain the importance of sleep, and outline some ways you can improve your sleep patterns to hopefully see better results from your hard work.
How much sleep do I need?
The average person requires between 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night however it is estimated that 2/3 actually achieves this and approximately 10% are diagnosed with clinical insomnia.
The importance of sleep
Studies on sleep have revealed that regularly getting less than 7-8 hours can negatively impact both your athletic performance and general health. During sleep, our body heals, grows and restores balance to our internal systems including our hormones.
Sleep and sports performance
Failing to get enough sleep can have the following impacts on sports performance, training, and progression.
- The ability to make split-second decisions required in fast paced sports like tennis or football is impaired. Decisions take longer to make and are less likely to be the correct one.
- In endurance athletes, lack of sleep may increase perceived exertion. This means it makes exercise “feel” harder. The result of this, is that in set time trials, less distance is covered.
- Lack of sleep can reduce performance in time trials over a set distance. This is true for both sprint distances and longer distances.
- Lack of sleep decreases the rate at which muscle glycogen is replenished. Depending on how often you train, this could decrease the quality of your next training session.
- In strength athletes, the maximal weights able to be lifted is significantly lower in those who experience sleep deprivation over several days.
- Sleep deprivation leads to chronically elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol decreases levels of the hormones melatonin and serotonin. Cortisol also reduces growth hormone production which can decrease your muscle growth rate.
- Athletes who sleep less than 8 hours per night are 70% more likely to experience injury.
Sleep and health
People who regularly do not get enough sleep are at higher risk of many health issues.
- Sleep deprivation correlates highly with being over weight. Suggested reasons for this is that people who are tired often seek out highly palatable and high calorie foods to boost their energy to get them through the fatigue.
- People who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to have diabetes. On the other hand, improvements in sleep can lead to improved insulin sensitivity and help reduce the effects of Type II diabetes.
- Chronic inflammation which is often associated with lack of sleep may be associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Immune function is compromised when you don’t get enough sleep. This means you are more likely to fall ill and become sick.
How to improve sleep quality
Now we understand the importance of sleep, there are several behavioral and habit changes that you can make to improve your sleep quality.
1. Practice good sleep hygiene
Sleep hygiene is a new term referring to practices which will help promote good sleep. One hour before you plan to be asleep put down the mobile phone and charge it in a different room to which you sleep. Wind down with a book if you like. Switch off all lights, mobile phones, bed side lamps and go to bed.
2. Have a bedtime routine
If you’re a parent, you know that forming a bedtime routine is one of the most effective things you can do to promote good sleep habits. Your bedtime routine might involve taking a shower, making some tea and reading a book or listening to relaxing music before climbing into bed. Try to go to bed at the same time every night.
3. Avoid coffee and other stimulants
Caffeine is a Central Nervous System stimulant which can disrupt sleep. Avoid caffeinated beverages late in the day and before bed. The number of hours you should leave between your last coffee or pre-workout and bed time to have a good night sleep will depend on your sensitivity to caffeine. Everyone is different.
Supplements for sleep
Taking supplements to improve sleep quality should be secondary to to making the behavioral changes mentioned above. However, there are several supplements that are worth considering to improve your sleep quality.
Casein for better sleep
Casein is a type of protein found in cows milk. It is a high quality, bioavailable protein that contains all of the essential amino acids. Unlike whey protein which is rapidly digested, casein is slowly digested and absorbed. This makes it the ideal protein to be having at night time before you sleep. People who take have a high protein diets generally have a better sleep quality. Casein is superior to other protein types as a night time protein, due to being more slowly digested. This keeps you feeling full and when on a calorie deficit means you are less likely to wake up hungry. In addition to this, casein contains a lot of the amino acid tryptophan. Studies have shown that tryptophan improves sleep quality due to acting as a precursor to the relaxing neurotransmitter 5-HT which in turn is a precursor to melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep.
GABA for better sleep
GABA is a neurotransmitter inhibitor in the brain. It helps to induce relaxation and sleep. GABA is also a great supplement to use for those who exercise intensely as it also stimulates the anterior pituitary gland, leading to increased growth hormone levels. This has a positive effect on lean muscle mass, fat loss and anti-aging.
Melatonin for better sleep
Melatonin helps regulate the sleep/wake cycle. Some people have naturally low levels of this hormone. Taking a melatonin supplement before bed may help people fall asleep faster.
Chamomile for better sleep
Chamomile is a natural herb most common consumed as a tea. This is some studies has been shown to induce a calming effect and helps promote sleep.
As we have explained, the importance of sleep for both sports performance and general health can’t be understated. Starting and maintaining better sleep hours is one of the best things you can do to make gain in the gym. If you’re after some supplements to help you sleep we have casein here and GABA here.