"A good night's sleep is important for general health but especially for all athletes, regardless of their level. Sleeping promotes muscle energy restoration, growth and repair; bone-building; and fat burning."
When I started the journey of my new healthy lifestyle, I first focused on exercise followed by exploring what a balanced diet meant for me. With discipline and persistence, I began to see and feel the benefits to my body: moving more efficiently and losing weight. But at some point I hit a plateau, my energy was lost and no matter what I did I felt stuck. I talked to my sister, a nutritionist, and a sleep medicine consultant, who asked me an important question: Are you getting enough sleep? And that is when it hit me; I focused so much on the other two factors (which is what most people do when they think about a healthy lifestyle) and left out a fundamental piece of the puzzle.
A good night's sleep is important for general health but especially for all athletes, regardless of their level. Sleeping promotes muscle energy restoration, growth and repair; bone-building; and fat burning. The reason for this is that the increased secretion of growth hormone happens during the deep stages of sleep. If your body is not producing that hormone effectively, you won't get the benefits. The quantity and quality of sleep in athletes who practice a sport regularly have a great impact on their performance. Getting enough sleep should be part of the training plan. Performance is optimal when you get enough (or a little more) sleep, as it is a factor that significantly helps you achieve your maximum potential. Everyone can relate to the fact that when you sleep less than 7 hours your performances are compromised: decreased reaction time, less strength, more fatigue, and the feeling that what you are doing feels much more difficult when it isn't. If you don't get enough sleep, performance drops.
Another problem I experienced was my mood. It started to decline. So what was happening to all those benefits that came with physical activity? The answer was that I was overdoing it. I prioritized working out over sleeping. So on top of muscle fatigue, my sleep debt was getting bigger. Excessive exercise can cause a set of symptoms caused by an increased production of serotonin and characterized by an overwhelming feeling of tiredness, lack of energy, feeling of exhaustion. Too much serotonin at night has a negative effect on the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin causing insomnia. All this was causing a vicious circle in my life where I was having more difficulty resting, sleeping less, overtraining and not advancing in any of my athletic skills; increasing my feelings of frustration.
After understanding the impact that not sleeping was having on my life, I started to make changes. Luckily, small changes helped me improve my sleep hygiene and optimize my potential:
- Going to bed every single day at the same time, and trying to do the same for my wake up times. This would send my body the correct messages to fall asleep easier and more effectively.
- Sleeping 7 – 8 hours per night.
- When I do my long training I schedule 20 minute naps to restore mental alertness, or 45 minutes to achieve recovery.
- I keep a sleep routine, which includes no electronics 2 hours before going to bed, meditation, and restorative yoga.
- No caffeinated beverages after 2 pm.
- My bedroom is my sanctuary: it is exclusive for sleeping (no work or electronics are allowed).
- No hot showers close to my bedtime (yep, a surprise for me too). Hot water helps you fall asleep faster but you might have a bad night's sleep since the body's temperature is lower when you are sleeping.
Health is the result of integrating different variables and factors that we often take for granted. With the knowledge and experience I have gained in my path, I am certain that sleeping is as important (and sometimes more important) as exercising and eating right.
Written By: Claudia Benevento, Tri Sirena Siren Luminary
Follow Claudia on Instagram @cbenevento
Have any sleep strengthening tips you'd like to share? Let us know in the comments below!
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