Sleep Recovery in Sport

2nd March 2020

Poor sleep and athletic performance: Sleep researchers across the world have discovered that sleep deprivation has a big impact on mental and physiological processes within the body. Poor quality sleep will affect your cardiovascular performance, metabolism, the levels of information your brain can process, and your emotional response to required tasks.

During sleep your brain has a chance to sort, prioritise and file all the information you have taken in during the day. But miss getting the quality of sleep you need and your mental functioning will decrease nearly twice as fast as your physical performance, so although you may feel physically fit the following day, the chances are you won’t be able to recall the tactical information you were given during training, and you will struggle to make effective decisions during a match or an event.

Even minimal levels of sleep loss (sleep debt) result in an increased perception of effort. You will feel more fatigued, your mood will drop, and you will not be in the type of mental state needed for a winning performance.

If you need a nocturnal sleep period of 8 hours but only achieve 6, you will accumulate enough sleep debt in less than 14 days to reduce your cardiovascular performance by up to 11%.

Not getting enough sleep can slow your body’s metabolism of glucose by as much as 30 to 40%. Levels of cortisol (a stress hormone linked to memory impairment, age-related insulin resistance and impaired recovery) rise during periods of poor quality sleep.

Elevated levels of cortisol may also interfere with muscle recovery and growth. Over time, this could prevent an athlete from responding to increased levels of training (pre-season for example) and lead to over-training and injury.

Some of the many reasons why understanding the fundamental mechanics of sleep is so important to athletes, coaches and everyone who has an impact on the athlete.

Taking control of sleep and not wasting valuable time trying to sleep: The more knowledge you have, the better you will be able to prepare and the more consistent your quality of sleep will be.

Seven practical & achievable routine changes (gains) which will aggregate, unlocking a greater positive overall effect.

 Key Sleep Recovery Indicators – KSRIs 

○ Ensure you have a good understanding of the circadian rhythm, a 24 hour cycle that regulates our biological and physiological functions.

○ Identify your personal Chronotype to prevent adopting routines that are counterproductive to your natural sleep (recovery) characteristic.

○ Think of sleep as 90 minute cycles not hours, putting you in more control of how many cycles you actually need and when.

○ Adopt three practical & achievable techniques that can be applied in the final ninety minutes into a targeted sleep time, which promotes entering a sleep state naturally, and the first ninety minutes on and after wake, promoting a naturally stimulated wake. One part of a post- wake routine is to identify a constant everyday wake time (CWT), ideally between 6am & 8am in harmony with the circadian clock.

○ Plan a recovery break every 90 minutes throughout your day. Longer periods to fuel up at regular times, morning, midday and evening, shorter ones (5mins) to promote information download and take on daylight.

○ Most sleeping products available are actually designed for specific users and sleeping profiles. They however are generally sold as a “one product fits all” and the more expensive it is, the better it is. Research thoroughly, before you select a mattress, pillow, duvet and bed linen, because they contribute to most sleeping concerns and if not correctly profiled to you, will always be a key barrier to improvement.

○ Not boudoir or bedroom – the main function of this room is maximising mental & physical recovery, so rethink it, starting with its title, my “recovery room”.

Advances in technology, sport science and real-time analysis has accelerated the knowledge of what it takes to win and continues to push performance levels to new heights.

Football for example is now a constant process of identifying marginal gains built upon consistent levels of performance. Sleep and the process of sleeping, the natural mental and physical recovery tool, is still even today taken very much for granted.

Whilst ongoing research clearly identifies the mental and physical benefits, the ongoing challenge for all athletes is how to apply the varied, sometimes complex and more importantly intrusive interventions and/or measurement tools such as apps and sleep/fitness monitors.

Without structure to an athletes Sleep Wake Routine (SWR) their ability to adapt and cope with not only the growing demands of modern sport, but also changes in lifestyle, unforeseen circumstances and of course the 24-hour media focus, increasing levels of stress, anxiety/sleep anxiety and unproductive habits. If not addressed they will form routines that attempt to compensate for poor sleep quality, which by default make it even more difficult to achieve quality sleep.

We have seen a rapid increase in athletes who observe levels of insomnia, in particular prior to a competition. Electronic Insomnia is a new term for this and future generations of athletes who can be classified as gamers, social networkers, virtual communicators, creating their own routines based on the “can’t switch off or it off” principles.

They develop routines that allow them to keep going until they shut-down, excuses for and increased use of stimulants to push on through. Prescribed drugs, caffeine, energy drinks/supplements, over the counter natural remedies.

Not surprisingly in today’s easy access information age, athletes like everyone else can search for solutions to their poor sleep and/or postural concerns associated with sleeping. Neck vertebrae strain and lower back pain are the most common.

They may buy a new mattress, pillows, change their diet and use herbal supplements or even prescription/non-prescription drugs. Applying the latest relaxation exercises, meditation, use of sensory as well as behavioural and cognitive techniques in the hope of improving their sleep.

These interventions, however, when used in isolation or at random, rarely help and more likely to create other more long-term concerns.

For a modern-day athlete at any level, a far better and proven approach is to identify your Personal Sleep Profile, learn more about the basics of sleep, how to control it and then apply the latest techniques, inventions and products at home and when away.

Don’t waste valuable time trying to sleep.

R90 Coaching – internationally proven coaching to reveal the highest levels of mental and physical recovery, when awake and asleep. You can find more information here or schedule a call to find out how we could help you.