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The Importance of Sleep in Recovery

 

At Athlecare, athletes are able to come in and access a variety of therapeutic treatments to enhance their recovery. However, what a lot of athletes don’t realize is that the recovery process continues long after they leave the doors of Athlecare. Healthy nutrition and sleep practices are essential to performance enhancing recovery. We are going to take a quick dive into what some experts call the “new frontier in performance enhancement for athletes”: sleep. 

There are a lot of questions surrounding sleep: “How important is sleep? 

Am I getting enough? Why can’t I sleep? And how do I get more?”. To answer the first question: researchers found that sleep has been previously self-reported to be the most important recovery modality for both elite and sub-elite athletes1. Sleep has been proven to have a restorative effect on both the immune system and endocrine system and plays an integral role in cognitive recovery. 

So now that we know the importance of sleep, how much is enough? The National Sleep Foundation found that in order for sleep to facilitate a restorative effect on the body, sleep must occur for an adequate amount of time and consist of high quality, restful, consistent sleep1. The recommendations are featured in the table below. It has also been suggested that elite athletes need more sleep than nonathletes, but the difference has not yet been quantified. 

 

Age Category 

Hours of Sleep Recommended
Adolescents  8-10 hours
Adults  7-9 hours
Older Adults  8-9 hours

 

All of this being said, to add to the sleep dilemma, athletes are notorious for lack of adequate sleep. Studies that evaluated elite athletes found that 50–80% of athletes experience sleep disturbance, while 22–26% experience highly disturbed sleep. This could be due to a whole host of things such as varied practice schedules and meal routines, chronic or acute stress, and late night blue-light (from an electronic device) exposure1. Less than 7 hours of sleep on a consistent basis can lead to daytime fatigue and sleepiness along with impaired muscle recovery, which can have an adverse effect on performance and recovery1

It is clear that sleep is essential to any athlete looking to perform at their best. But in a bustling world where athletes are bombarded by what may seem like endless tasks and stressful scenarios, how is it possible to gain more sleep? Here are a five quick tips to try in an effort to gain a more restful nights sleep: 

 

  1. Create a sleep schedule 
    1. Sticking to a consistent bedtime and wake up time (within an hour) helps to reinforce your body’s circadian rhythms, encouraging consistent and restful sleep2
  2. Limit blue-light exposure 
    1. Being mindful to avoid electronics at least half an hour prior to going to bed allows your mind to rest and fall asleep easier2
  3. Try relaxation techniques 
    1. If you find that your mind is always racing while you’re attempting to fall asleep, trying a relaxation technique such as breathing exercises, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation can help relax your mind before bed3
  4. Be mindful beverage intake 
    1. Avoid caffeine & alcohol intake later in the day to promote healthy, restful sleep habits2,3
  5. Limit late-day naps 
    1. Long daytime naps, especially later in the day, can interfere with your sleep schedule. Try to limit naps to about half an hour earlier in the day2

 

I hope this blog post leaves you feeling more informed and can help lead you to a restful night’s sleep and greater recovery. 

 

  1. Doherty R, Madigan SM, Nevill A, Warrington G, Ellis JG. The Sleep and Recovery Practices of Athletes. Nutrients. 2021;13(4):1330. Published 2021 Apr 17. doi:10.3390/nu13041330
  2. Sleep tips: 6 steps to better sleep. Mayo Clinic Web site. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/sleep/art-20048379. Updated 2020. Accessed August 24, 2021.
  3. Suni E, Singh A. Healthy sleep tips. Sleep Foundation Website. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-hygiene/healthy-sleep-tips. Updated 2020.

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