Sleep is an integral part of our everyday lives. Aspects such as mental and physical health, development, performance, and learning all depend on the amount of sleep we get. For an athlete, then the need of or lack thereof comes into a sharp focus.
From the perspective of an athlete, the ramifications sleep has on performance changes. It then becomes a matter of decision-making, cognitive skills, performance, immune functions, and to a greater extent, weight gain.
When expounding on the essence of sleep, comparisons are drawn between sleep requirements in normal people and athletes. But is there really a difference between the sleeping patterns of an athlete and a normal person?
In today’s post, we will be discussing whether there are any differences in regards to the amount of sleep that an athlete and any normal person require.
How Much Sleep Does an Athlete Need?
For a normal person, the average recommended amount of sleeping time is usually between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per day. However, this is not always a fast rule and changes from time to time. For athletes, the amount of sleeping hours varies depending on a person.
Some athletes have been reported to get about 8-12 hours of sleep per night. These hours are however not a typical representation of the whole athletic population. People who own memory foam toppers for their mattresses also realize better sleep than those who don’t.
Certain studies carried out on the athletic populations show a sleep duration of over 5 hours to under 9 hours. These findings are surprising since you would expect longer sleeping hours among athletes.
Keeping everything constant, athletes need to have at least 10 hours of sleep. This amount of sleep is essential before the week of competitive events and intensive training. It is the most effective path to full recovery and optimal performance.
Nonetheless, if you are an adolescent athlete, then your aim should be at least 9 hours of sleep every day. Of course, it might not be possible to get all these hours at once. That is why naps are recommended.
Naps act as ways of making up for the lost sleep time. However, the scheduling is critical. Keep the napping times to a maximum of 30 minutes, and should not be before a competitive match or practice time. Naps can cause sleepiness when you wake up.
How Sleeping Patterns Differ Among Athletes and Normal People
1. Athletes Do Not Get Sufficient Sleep
In as much as athletes are expected to get more hours of sleep, that is not the actual truth. It arises from a logical sense that since athletes expend more energy which results in muscular damage, then they would need more sleep for muscle repair. On the contrary, this seems not to be the case, based on studies.
A 1988 report shows that aerobic training in athletes increases their requirement for Short Wave Sleep (SWS). In addition, this type of training would theoretically reduce the amount of time it takes an athlete to sleep.
Studies that examine sleep hours indicate a surprising trend among elite athletes. Among these is a 2014 study which realized an average sleeping time of 6.8 hours. These ranges from 5.5 to 8 hours.
A number of other studies in 2014 mirror these results, indicating insufficient sleep among athletes. When compared to the average sleeping hours of 7 to 19 hours among the normal populace, then a clear difference can be deduced.
Researchers have attributed the apparent low quantity of sleep to several factors:
Waking up early in the morning for training sessions
Poor sleep hygiene and discipline
Nocturnal waking due to frequent urination as a consequence of being hydrated
Intensive planning/working out schedules/worrying/thinking
Excess caffeine in the process
2. Athletes Benefit from Longer Hours of Sleep than Lay People
Generally speaking, sleep is good for your health. But is too much sleep harmful to your health? Well, research links excessive sleep for more than the 9 hours to certain health effects. Having too much sleep every night has been identified to make you susceptible to diabetes, headaches, obesity, back pain, depression, and heart disease.
Being sleep deprived for athletes leads to a reduction in the production of carbohydrates and glycogen. These are essential energy sources that sustain high-intensity activities such as weight lifting and marathons in athletes. Depleting these reserves leaves them little to go on with.
Tons of research confirm these assertions. Unlike normal people, athletes actually benefit from increased sleeping time. Studies on basketball, tennis, cross country, golf and track and field show that more sleep results in faster, quicker reaction time, and more accurate athletes.
In 2007, a study carried out on a group of swimmers showed an improvement in performance. These athletes were subjected to 10 hours of straight sleep every day for up to seven weeks. In the end, swim times, reaction times, turn times and kick strokes increased.
A study on football and tennis players yielded the same results. For footballers, sprint times shot up as well as their overall moods. On the other hand, tennis players receiving 10 hours of sleep had substantial improvements in their serve accuracy and sprints as well.
Basketball players are not left behind. There is an increase in shooting accuracy for free throws by close to 5%. Three-point shots accuracy goes up by 9% for basketballers who receive an additional 2 hours of sleep every day.
3. Athletes Have Lower Sleeping Efficiency
While athletes might go to bed early, their sleeping times tend to be considerably low. In this context, sleeping time refers to the period between falling asleep and waking up. For example, let’s say you go to bed at 9.20, fall sleep at around 10 then wake up at exactly 6, you would have a sleeping time of 8 hours.
A 2012 study using wristwatch actigraphy set out to quantify the sleep quantity in sports and non-athletic subjects. It came as a surprise when the results showed that non-athletes showed better sleeping characteristics than athletes.
Sleep indicators such as sleeping time, sleeping efficiency as well as moving times performed less satisfactorily in athletes. A one-year study in 2016 corroborates these findings. It found out that nearly one out of four professional athletes had problems getting enough sleep.
Sleeping Tips for Athletes
From the various studies quoted, it is evident that there is a widespread sleeping problem among elite athletes. Is there a way out? Yes, there are a couple of sleeping tips that athletes can utilize to get the quality of sleep their active bodies require.
The national sleeping foundation outlines sleeping solutions for sleep-deprived athletes.
Schedule naps during the day for an effective and more efficient workout and even game times. Just ensure you don’t schedule the naps either too close or too long to your bedtime. The last thing you need is a nap interfering with your regular sleeping schedule.
Making your sleeping room a haven plays a key role in the quality of sleep you would get. Keep the room dark, quiet, and cool. Blackout curtains, memory foam pillows, and eyeshades come in handy too when you need a dark atmosphere for sleep. Having somebody let in bright light in the morning acts as a wakeup call.
Maintain a Sleeping Discipline
Before your bedtime, do not take any pills, drinks or vitamins. These tend to replace the potential good sleep you might have. Also avoid any caffeinated drink such as coffee, tea, soda, chocolate or pop. Nicotine and alcohol also have to be avoided for a good night’s sleep.
Schedule Sleeping Routines
Having a consistent sleeping schedule lessens your fatigue levels as your body would be synchronized with the sleep indicators you have in place. Sticking to your sleep and wake up time timelines makes it easier to fall asleep and wake up feeling rejuvenated for the day.
Maintain a Quiet Environment Before Sleep
In as much as it might not be possible, strive to minimize your exposure to telephones, smartphones, laptops, computer, and TV. Sticking to calming activities makes you fall asleep with much ease.
This is common in teens. Internal clocks tend to make teenage athletes feel sleepy during the day. As a result of heightened hormonal changes, your body might drift off the schedule you had in place. To counter these effects, find an intense activity to get involved in. In this way, you become more alert than before.
There are differences between how athletes and normal people sleep. While athletes benefit from longer sleeping hours, normal people tend to realize heightened adverse effects of too much sleep.
And while normal people tend to sleep for more hours, studies on athletes show that most of them get few hours of sleep due to a myriad of factors. These differences do not apply to every athlete as there are some I talked to who say that they get up to 10 hours of sleep in a day, particularly on weekends.
All in all, it is imperative that athletes realize that sleep is an important aspect of their biological functions. Mental, physical, cognitive, performance and development attributes are all dependent on good sleep. Identifying a sleep problem then following the recommended guidelines helps to maximize performances.