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Performance Enhancing Supplements:
Part 5, Sleep: The Most Obvious One of All!

By certified sports nutritionist Marcia Homer, MS, CSN

Back to list of our training, coaching and nutrition essays

By: Marcia Homer, MS, CSN

As a health and fitness coach/trainer, I like to ask my clients if they could get a treatment or pop a pill every day that would drastically improve their performance, reduce their chance of injury, accelerate their recovery rate – which in turn would lead to higher energy levels and an overall improved state of health – isn’t that something they would do? Of course! There IS such a magic therapy – it’s called sleep! (Some of us have to work harder for it than others – I get that – that’s for another article…) But SLEEP is a facet of your training that you may want to start thinking of as a “performance enhancer”. Just the smallest tweaks in your sleeping game can produce significant benefits.

For any human being, sleep is completely crucial to proper functioning. Without proper sleep, whether we’re talking short-term or long-term deficits, there are substantial effects on mood, mental and cognitive skills, and motor abilities. These effects become even more critical when they involve endurance athletes. When it comes to recovering from hard physical efforts, there’s simply no better treatment than sleep, and a lot of it. And, as I always say, “It’s good for the soul...”

Greater Focus=Greater Performance
We’ve all had those races – right? You come rolling in at the last minute, after 2-3 hours of sleep, scrambling around, looking for the start line, feeling a bit – fuzzy? Wondering where your gloves are? And where is the damn Honey Bucket?? Sleep deprivation is extremely damaging to a body’s ability to think, move and function in a coordinated effort. And we all know athletes can’t spare even fractions of a second to react to the activity unfolding in front of them. Sleep deprivation is known to reduce reaction times significantly. Even a single all-nighter can reduce reaction times by more than 300%, not to mention recovering takes several days. Studies have shown even a surprisingly low level of fatigue can impair reaction times as much, if not more, than being legally drunk (Williamson & Feyer, 2000). Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication.

Brian Robinson

Don't forget that having a rested properly body body is vital to winning.

Reduced Chance of Injury
Sleep has also been proven to reduce injury rates. A University of California study concluded that injury rates in youth athletes increased during games that followed a night of sleep fewer than 6 hours. Another study, looking at injury rates in high school athletes, found that sleep hours was the strongest predictor of injuries, even more so than the hours of practice (Milewski et al., 2014).

Effects of Sleep Deprivation/Fatigue on Athletic Performance
Sleep loss impairs judgment. Studies have shown motivation, focus, memory, and learning to be impaired by shortened sleep. Without sleep, the brain struggles to consolidate memory and absorb new knowledge. Past studies have shown that sleep loss impairs the frontal lobe of the brain and has negative effects on decision-making such as sensitivity to risk-taking, moral reasoning and inhibitions.

On the baseball field, one study has shown that MLB players show decreased ‘plate discipline’ as the season progresses. Meaning the number of times a batter swings at a ball outside of the strike-zone increases. While I would think common logic would predict that plate discipline would improve over the season – as players had more practice and at-bats – the opposite was shown to be true. MLB players consistently showed better judgment at the beginning of the season than at the end. Clearly mental fatigue is the cause. (Savage, 2013).  I can’t imagine the toll 162 games a year would take on my BODY let alone my mind!

Practice Proper Sleep Hygiene – Get Your Edge!
Take a look at your own sleep habits. I’m betting your sleep hygiene habits could use a little tweaking..

Do yourself a favor. Try to start framing your thinking around sleep as a performance BOOSTER rather than a time-sucking CHORE, and the effort it takes to sleep long and sleep well will VERY MUCH be a smart investment!
I’ll leave you with the words of one of my idols, Coach Vince Lombardi, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

Marcia holds a Master of Applied Exercise Science degree from Concordia University, Chicago.  She is also an ACE certified Health Coach as well as a Certified Sports Nutritionist through the International Society of Sports Nutrition.  As a marathon runnerX45, Hood-to-Coast captain, Ironman triathlete, Tough Mudder and Crossfit Masters competitor, Marcia knows first-hand the importance of proper nutrition in endurance sports.  She offers 1:1 health coaching through her business Homer Up For Health.  For more info, hit her up at homerupforhealth@gmail.com or check out her website/blog: Homerupforhealth.com

References

Milewski, M., Skaggs, D., Bishop, G., Pace, J., Ibrahim, D., Wren, T., & Barzdukas, A. (2014, March). Chronic lack of sleep is associated with increased sports injuries in adolescent athletes. Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics, 34(2), 129-33.

Walker, M., & Stickgold, R. (2005). It's practice, with sleep, that makes perfect: implications of sleep-dependent learning and plasticity for skill performance. Clinical Sports Medicine, 24 (2), 301-317.

Williamson, A., & Feyer, A. (2000). Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 57(10), 649-655.

Savage, L. C. (2013, June 17). Go to bed tonight. On Time. (Or else.). Retrieved December 5, 2016, from http://www.macleans.ca/society/life/the-sleep-crisis