In today’s world, sleep can be a hard thing to attain. With more intense jobs requiring us to work longer and longer hours, it can be very easy to fall into the trap of burning the candle at both ends. A recent study by Richard Wiseman, professor in the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, in conjunction with his latest book, Night School, found that 59 percent of Brits get seven hours or less sleep every night.
You may hear comments claiming the most successful people are up at four, five, or six, work hard all day and burn the candle at both ends. While this might be true for the odd day, the perception that they run at this high intensity every day isn’t true. They will all get the right amount of sleep. It’s now seen as a good thing to skip sleep to complete one more bit of work, get one more proposal done or finish one more task. The issue with this is that over a period of time, sleep deprivation occurs with devastating effects on both your normal life and exercise routine.
What happens when you sleep?
Lots of things happen when you sleep. It’s the body’s way of recovering from the day and preparing for the next. Without going into too much detail, here are a few things that the body does when you sleep. The brain removes waste matter which can be toxic to the brain and body. It cements memories and activities learned during the day and the levels of stress hormones reduce significantly. There is a nocturnal dipping of the blood pressure along with your body temperature. You become temporarily paralysed while in REM sleep so you don’t act out your dreams (this is why you can wake up with a dead arm) and you pump out growth hormones to repair and recover and your cells are completely repaired. Not only this, your immune system is at a high.
Benefits of Sleep for training
The benefits of sleep are numerous. They include longer life, improved creativity, improved cognitive function, less stress, lower risk of depression, and more, however, below are the benefits of sleep that link directly to physical activity.
- Improved memory: While asleep, the brain ‘consolidates’ learned information improving retention and efficiency. If you’re changing your technique to lift, run, swim or cycle at the next level, sleep will be your friend.
- Reduced inflammation: Blood pressure and the number of inflammatory proteins drop with increased sleep. This is crucial to training because when you train, you put the body under immense stress and, as a result, create inflammation. By sleeping more, you reduce inflammation and recover quicker.
- Increased performance: A Stanford University study found that college football players who tried to sleep at least 10 hours a night for seven to eight weeks improved their average sprint time and had less daytime fatigue and more stamina.
- Greater focus: More sleep results in better focus letting you concentrate when training. Greater focus will stop you from wasting time when training which will drop intensity.
- Better appetite control: The parts of the brain that control sleep hormones also control metabolism. When you require sleep, the levels of hormones telling you to sleep increase which drives up the hormones telling you to eat. This means you can easily overeat without being hungry. There is a much deeper science involving cortisol and a link to our ancestors but we won’t go into that here.
- Faster metabolism: Reduced sleep results in a reduction of your metabolism. This is detrimental to those looking to lose weight as you essentially need fewer calories making it very easy to create a calorie excess. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that people ate an average of nearly 300 fewer calories per day when they were well-rested.
- Better hormonal balance: Poor sleep has been linked to lower levels of testosterone in men although the link isn’t clear. As testosterone is the key hormone in muscle building, lower levels result in lower muscle mass. Simple.
- Better mood: While this may not directly better training, it will indirectly. A better mood will reduce the chance of you skipping training and damaging progress.
How much should you get?
The amount of recommended sleep varies with age, but according to the National Sleep Foundation, the following suggestions are a good guideline per night. Please bear in mind that these are only averages and individual requirements may vary.
0-3 months: 14-17 hours
4-11 months: 12-15 hours
1-2 years: 11-14 hours
3-5 years: 10-13 hours
6-13 years: 9-11 hours
14-17 years: 8-10 hours
18-25 years: 7-9 hours
26-64 years: 7-9 hours
65 years and older: 6-8 hours
How much do the professionals get?
Here are a few examples of the sleep patterns of athletes:
- Rodger Federer: 11-12 hours per night
- Usain Bolt: 8-10 hours per night
- Lebron James: 12 hours per night
- Venus Williams: 8-9 hours per night
- Steve Nash: 10 hours
The benefits of sleep are many and it is worth considering as part of your training. You may exercise hard, eat well, supplement right and stretch/recover but if you aren’t sleeping properly, you’re losing out. Our recommendation? As we aren’t neuroscientists it’s difficult for us to give strong suggestions, however, we would recommend getting as much as possible and not using any screens an hour before going to sleep.