Sleep is vital to your success. As an athlete, you build muscle and get stronger when you rest. But yet, as important as sleep is, it tends to get overlooked.
We all know that we should be catching more zzz’s.
Below I am going to dig into the benefits of sleep for athletes and give some quick tips on how to optimize your sleep. In competition, small edges create huge results. Make your sleep and recovery the edge that allows you to win!
More Sleep = More Gains
Sleep is when your body repairs itself. When you sleep, your body releases all kinds of beneficial hormones into your body. The list of hormones that are released include the two best hormones that an athlete could wish for, testosterone and HGH (human growth hormone).
These hormones go to work in your body rebuilding broken down muscle tissue and making it stronger.
This special release of hormones happens while you go through the non-REM phase of sleep. REM sleep is more popular, but from an athlete’s perspective non-REM sleep is the most important. Non-REM sleep is when your body is physically restored.
I’ll have sleep tips below, but one of the main things to help increase non-REM sleep is to simply get MORE sleep. Strive for 8 hours a night. While you sleep, your body will cycle trhough different stages of sleep (REM, non-REM, etc..). The more total time you sleep at night, the more cycles your body will go through.
This is a huge advantage when it comes to boosting your body’s ability to recover from physical stress.
Sleep Increases Your Ability To Learn New Skills
In the previous point I talked about the benefits of non-REM sleep. You may be asking, where does REM sleep come in? I’ve got you. Read on.
REM sleep is when your brain is restored. This is when your memories are solidified, facts are memorized, and logic is retained. It doesn’t stop there though, REM sleep also helps to to “lock in” new motor patterns.
For instance, if you are learning a new lift, such as a snatch, your brain is involved in the learning and execution of that lift. It’s not purely physical. There is a mental side to acquiring new skill. Getting optimal amounts of REM sleep will allow you to obtain new skills at a faster rate.
You could think of it as upgrading your software.
Increasing REM sleep is similar to the tip given above, you are going to need to increase your total sleep duration each night. More hours of sleep equals more sleep cycles. This will allow you to get the REM sleep that your brain needs to acquire new skills.
Now that we’d established the importance of sleep for athletes, what are the things you can do to get better sleep?
1. Sleep More
This isn’t an earth shattering piece of info. Sleep is important. As I mentioned above, getting more sleep overall will help to increase the amount of sleep cycles that you’ll go through.
In fact, research shows that sleeping for an extra hour per day increases your testosterone by 15%. This is huge!
Sleeping more doesn’t have to be a chore. I recommend simply starting to wind down a half hour or so before your usual bedtime. Finish up your projects for the day and then allow yourself to relax.
2. Sleep In Darkness
Research shows that sleeping in a completely dark environment increases the amount of melatonin that your body produces. This is huge, as melatonin plays a major part in regulating your sleep.
You’ll want to stay away from light as you get closer to your bedtime. A couple of things to avoid are:
- LED lights found in phones, TV screens, etc… These little lights activate your brain and can make it difficult to fall asleep. Try reading a paperback book the last hour or so before bed. Falling asleep in front of the TV isn’t a great recipe for getting optimal sleep.
- Black out your windows. You can get blinds, curtains, or even tape cardboard to your windows. What works. Having a completely dark sleep environment will up your sleep quality.
3. Creating An Evening Ritual
A great way to ease your body into better sleep at night is to create an evening ritual. An evening ritual is simply a routine that you follow to relax and wind down at night. It can include journaling, meditating, having a cup of tea, reading a book, etc…
Find what works for you.
My routine consists of shutting down electronics half an hour before bed. I then dim the light next to my bed and read a book. Soon enough, I’m out!
While I tend to be one of “those” people that sleep very easily and soundly, you may need to experiment to find what your body responds to.
4. Take a Sleep Aid
Sometimes, no matter what you do, you just can’t wind down at night. During those times, I’d suggest taking a natural sleep aid.
Different supplements can be just the fix that you need. In fact, you can check out my article on the best supplements for working out. I list sleep aids as one of the best natural supplements you can take.
As we have talked about, sleep is important. Getting optimal amounts of sleep is of vital importance for athletes. So start sleeping well!