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JAG Physical Therapy

The Importance of Sleep

 

How important is sleep for an athlete?

Although sleep is often overlooked when planning out a training regimen, it should be considered as equally important as nutrition and physical conditioning. Sleep experts have been studying the effects of sleep deprivation for many years and have determined that the lack of sleep affects the athlete greatly in the following ways:

  • Slowed Reaction Times- A slowed reaction time of even one second due to mental fatigue from sleep deprivation can make all the difference on a soccer field. Sleep studies on athletes have shown that a single “all-nighter” has decreased reaction times by up to 300%. With that in mind, imagine standing in front of a goal when the soccer ball comes flying at you! Slowed reaction times lead not only to missed pass or goal opportunities, but can result in injuries as well.
  • Increased Injury Rates- Our bodies use our time asleep to repair, regenerate and re-energize. After a long practice or game, when an athlete has fatigued his/her body and mind, sleep becomes crucial. Muscle fatigue and breakdown, which occurs after strenuous activity, needs adequate time to heal. Muscles need to repair and regenerate before the next activity in order to refrain from injury. Elevated levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, have also been shown to interfere negatively with tissue repair and growth.  As sleep deprivation can lead to slower reaction times, injuries can result from a collision with another player, or by being hit by a ball you didn’t see coming your way.
  • Energy Storage- Glucose and glycogen (stored glucose) are the main sources of energy for athletes. In a healthy athlete, glucose is stored in the muscle and is released as the body is put under physical stress. Those who are sleep deprived may experience lower energy storage levels, which is needed to perform at peak levels in endurance events like soccer.

 

With busy schedules, often sleep suffers. No one really thinks about the lack of sleep impacting peak performance.  Does it?

In today’s fast-paced world, sleep is thought of as a luxury as opposed to a necessity. This way of thinking needs to change--especially in the athlete population. If a peak performance is expected on the soccer field, sleep is needed.

 

What are the recommended hours of sleep for youth and adult athletes/soccer players?

This is a hard question to answer. As with most things in the human body, the number of hours of sleep needed is individually based, especially when we are talking about athletes. Sleep experts, for many years, have recommended 9-10 hours of sleep for the average adolescent or teen, and 7-9 hours for the average adult; but those hours may need to be increased for the athletic population. This will allow the body the time it needs to recover from heightened physical demands, increased energy expenditures, and fatigue of muscles following a workout.

Sleep is when our bodies and mind take the time to rest and recover. Muscular fatigue is repaired, cells are regenerated, and our immune systems are strengthened. Sleep also helps players think more clearly on the field.

 

What would you tell athletes who are about to perform in something like the Olympics? Do you have any recommendation for athletes training at an elite level? 

Athletes, no matter what level they are performing at, need to listen to their own bodies. It is great to read over how Michael Phelps prepares for his days in the pool, or how Hope Solo prepared for the stress-filled 90 minutes defending the goal; but their preparation and recovery tactics may not work for everyone. When preparing for a physically demanding game or practice, it is important to ensure that you are hydrated before, during and after; have given your body the proper nutrition to supply energy; and are well rested not only the night before and after the event, but for a few weeks prior and after.

 

How do you know if you need more sleep? How would you know if you are sleep deprived?

An easy way to estimate number of hours of sleep needed can be determined by experimenting with your sleep schedule for a week or so. It can be assumed that you are getting the appropriate number of hours of sleep if you fall asleep gradually (within 20 minutes or so) of hitting the pillow, and wake in the morning without needing the snooze button or a blaring alarm. On the opposite side of the spectrum, if you find yourself asleep before you hit the pillow, yawning throughout the day,  needing to hit the snooze button three times, or sleeping through your alarm--you are not getting enough sleep.