2/10/14

Boost athletic performance with restful sleep


After 6 consistent, quality workouts last week, it's time to reward my body with a restful night of sleep. 

As an athlete who is passionate about training smarter in order to train harder, I feel absolutely no guilt when I see all of my alarms set on "OFF."

Yay for no-alarm Mondays!!

As a coach, I see and hear far too often of athletes waking up super early for a recovery workout. Or, after days and days of early morning wake-up calls to squeeze in the training in a time-crunched lifestyle, the body is no longer performing but the athlete feels a sense of guilt if he/she doesn't workout the same time, every day. Sure, active recovery is great and I am all for it in a balanced training plan, but never at the expense of getting a good night of sleep. 


Restful sleep is not only important for overall health but for athletes, it's crucial for rest and recovery. 

For the fitness enthusiast and health conscious

Did you know that restless or inadequate sleep can increase risk for depression, weight gain, cravings, health problems (heart disease, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes) , poor concentration, faster aging, forgetfulness and can impair judgment. Try to aim for around 7-8 hours of sleep most days per week. It's likely that for most people, you can not sleep in any longer to get the recommended amount of sleep for you may risk being late for work or you may not be able to workout first thing in the morning (which may help with better sleep in the evening). So I recommend getting to bed earlier, especially if you are a 11pm or later "lights-off" type of person. Address late night snacking, computer or TV use as well as your diet patterns which may be causing you to stay up late or get a restless night of sleep. 

For the athlete
I think most athletes and coaches understand the importance of quality sleep and how sleep is a big part in the recovery process from intense training. However, this is one area where many dedicated, hard working and motivated athletes fail to succeed because a "no-alarm" morning or day-off from training may cause you to think you are slacking, being lazy, will gain weight, will not perform well, etc. because of a missed workout day. Also, many athletes are stuck in black or white thinking and a day off from training means no movement, no stretching, little focus on wholesome eating etc. Once again, I stress the importance of balance in the life of an age-group athlete. 
So in reality, sleep deprivation or inconsistent sleep, alongside not allowing room in a periodized training plan for adequate recovery will only increase the risk of a decrease in athletic performance and increase risk for injury, sickness and burnout. 

When it comes to adequate sleep vs the sleep deprived, there is not one specific category for those who sleep well and those who do not. But I think most athletes who sleep well, know how much sleep they need to feel rested.  If you want to see if you are in need of more consistent sleep, try going to bed without an alarm as early as possible on a Friday after a long week of training and balancing life/family/work and try waking up without an alarm. Be sure to keep your room dark and without outside noise. This may show you how much sleep your body is in need of to fully recover. However, although 9-10+ hours of sleep after a hard training block or week of life/training may be needed, on average, most healthy individuals will report needing around 7-8 hours of restful sleep a night to perform optimally in sport and in life. For many, this may be a fantasy to get that much sleep. 

For many athletes, even skimping on 30-60 min of sleep a few days per week can cause a host of health and performance issues...especially if the inconsistent sleep habits are occurring overtime. 

-Sleep deprivation may negatively affect glucose metabolism and cortisol which may increase the risk for insulin resistance, impaired recovery, a suppressed immune system, inefficient use of energy during workouts and increased cravings. 

-Sleep deprivation may affect mood, concentration, alertness, skills and judgement. All very important components of performance when it comes to using and moving your body especially for triathletes while riding a bike or for other athletes who require skills and concentration to perform. 


The key to any balanced training plan is consistency. Perhaps one or two nights per week you are sleeping only 6 hours due to an early morning workout or a late night of meetings/errands, etc. That may be fine for you can catch up the following day by going to bed a bit earlier so that you do not put yourself into sleep dept. Just like with training, you do not want to take too many risks with your body or else you may fall into a deep hole that you are unable to get out of. 

Try to make restful sleep part of your routine and this may mean modifying your workout routine slightly in order to get your body into a good sleep cycle. Although you may not have to modify every workout, every day, consider allowing at least one day per week to wake up without an alarm for a workout (you still need to go to work). You want to make sleep a priority in your routine, just like wholesome eating, stretching and training smart.  

If you are an athlete who is training for an event and is following a 8, 12 or 16+ week training plan, remember that you are using your body to perform in order to adapt to training stress. If you feel strongly about your "EZ" am workout of strength, swim, bike or run am because you are stuck in a routine and feel like life can not go on if you don't workout every morning, keep in mind that every movement you make burns calories and planning intentional off days can help with consistent training. Consider an evening yoga class, a long walk with your dog, a lunch break stretch or playing with your family in the evening as great energy boosters on a day "off" from training. As you sleep in and/or take a day off from training, bottle up all that unused "training" energy for a quality and consistent next 5-6 day block of training. 

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Campy - the cutest professional sleeper.