Getting better as an athlete starts with getting enough sleep.
In the 10 years I’ve been involved in college athletics; it’s been great to see how smart strength coaches and athletes are getting and how methodical and well thought out training is getting. But there is more to sports performance than just the training program. You also have to consider your quality of recovery and to be more specific, the quality of your sleep.
Sleep is divided into 2 phases, Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) and Rapid Eye Movement (REM). Within NREM, there are 3 stages; N1, N2 and N3 (Slow Wave Sleep). In 2000, Van Cauter, Leproult, and Plat found that the men with a high percentage of Slow Wave Sleep (SWS) (average 24%) had high growth hormone secretion, while subjects with a low percentage of SWS (average 9%) had low growth hormone secretion. Human growth hormone (HGH) is an anabolic hormone, and about an hour after the onset of sleep, the largest peak occurs and subsequent peaks occur roughly every 3-5 hours. Nearly 50% of HGH release occurs about an hour after you fall asleep. The last thing you would want to do is suppress the natural growth hormone in your body if you’re trying to grow!
Additionally, there is research out there that suggests that a lack of quality sleep can lead to increased cortisol levels. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone produced by the adrenal gland and is released in the body due to stress. Its lowest levels present 3-5 hours after you fall asleep. Also, increased cortisol levels can lead to a weakened immune system and decreased bone density.
So how does this all apply to you? Let’s start off with a hypothetical; you’re an athlete that’s training hard everyday and eating well, but you still aren’t gaining lean mass or you feel tired all the time. So what’s going wrong? Well, it’s one of two scenarios:
Let’s face it, when it comes to sleep, MOST college athletes don’t get enough of it and the quality of sleep when they do get it is poor. When I was in college, I would see guys go from team practice to the weight room and then go out and party all night. Then they’d have to get up and be ready for an early morning practice on Saturday morning. Did they get enough sleep? NO. Were their bodies recovering adequately? NO. Not exactly the ideal schedule for guys trying to gain weight and improve performance.
So what’s the solution to the problem? First, when it comes to sleep, shut the TV and the lights OFF! They’re distractions that you don’t need. The best sleep environment is dark and quiet at a temperature that is comfortable for you. Next, when you set the alarm, set it for the time you need to get up and when it goes off, GET UP! Athletes make the mistake of hitting the snooze button thinking that the extra little 10 minute nap will help, it won’t. So don’t bother. Last but not least, keep track of the real sleep you’re getting, and try to get 7 uninterrupted hours of sleep MINIMUM. I know you have stuff to do, but come-on, do you really need to play XBOX until 4am?
When it comes to over training, I love it when I get an athlete that comes in and is excited to workout hard everyday. But you have to pace yourself! Development and gains take patience and time to happen and you can’t cram 12 weeks of training into 5 weeks by simply doubling up on your workouts. I’ve seen a few people try and let me tell you, once tendinitis sets in and gets a hold of a knee or shoulder; it takes FOREVER to go away. So be patient and take your time. Building an athlete is a lot like building a house, you have to wait for the foundation to be laid out before you can start construction.
To sum it all up, work out hard, rest harder. If you don’t get enough quality sleep, your body doesn’t get to repair itself well enough to be prepared for the next day’s workouts. HGH is a hormone that does the majority of its work at night when you’re sleeping. Meaning, if you don’t sleep, your body can’t heal and grow to the best of its ability.