Sleep and Recovery

Recovery is crucial to maintaining and improving your physical performance and preventing injury at all levels of fitness training.


Short-term recovery could encompass several different activities.  It could be a low-intensity cool-down phase after a tough workout.


Or, it could mean an entire “rest day” where the only activities might include walking, stretching or yoga.


Short-term recovery allows the body to replenish energy and fluid lost during exercise.


And, short-term recovery requires adequate sleep.


Quality Counts


It’s not just about the number of hours of sleep.  Recovery depends on the quality of sleep both before and after exercise.


Researchers suspect that it is deep sleep that helps improve physical athletic performance because this is the time when growth hormone is released.


Growth hormone stimulates muscle growth and repair as well as bone building.


How Sleep Helps High-Level Fitness Enthusiasts


Many studies have tested the effects of sleep deprivation on athletic performance.


Effects include:

  • Slower muscle recovery
  • Changes in mood
  • Increase level of stress hormones, including cortisol
  • Decreased glycogen synthesis
  • Decreased aerobic endurance
  • Increased ratings of perceived exertion.

Fewer studies have looked at the effects of increased sleep.


One very small study from 2009 showed that increased sleep was associated with a faster sprinting speed and hitting accuracy in college tennis players.


Another small study showed that increasing the average number of hours per sleep for a group of basketball players from 6.5 per night to nearly 8.5 hours per night improved their free throw shooting by 11.4% and their three-point shooting by 13.7%.


Exercise and Sleep Requirements


How much sleep you require typically depends on the intensity and frequency of your exercise.


Some elite athletes are known to sleep 10-12 hours a night while training.  That’s in addition to napping throughout the day to maintain their endurance.


Each person is different. If you are new to exercise, you may be a lot sleepier after a long run than someone runs regularly.


Just like your nutrition plan, you need to evaluate your sleep requirements based on how you feel.


If you’re falling asleep as soon as you crawl into bed and struggling to wake up with your alarm, you are probably sleep deprived.


Here are some tips for using sleep to improve your sleep performance:

  • Make sleep a priority in your training schedule.
  • Increase your sleep time several weeks before a major competition.
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same times every day.
  • Take daily naps if you don’t get enough sleep at night.
  • Don’t worry if you have one bad night of sleep, even before a competition. One sleepless night is unlikely to hurt your performance.


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