“Society is learning how important sleep is and how dangerous sleep deprivation is. We’re teaching our players: Sleep is a weapon.” – Sam Ramsden, Director of Player Health & Performance, Seattle Seahawks.

There is a reciprocal relationship between sleep and exercise. If you sleep properly, you will probably perform well during your next workout, and if you exercise regularly, you will be able to sleep well. By understanding and applying the science of sleep, you will know how to optimize your health, fitness and performance.

How Sleep Works

During the various stages of sleep, your heart slows down, your blood pressure drops and your muscles relax. This provides you with some much needed rest so your cardiovascular system and muscles can repair and rebuild themselves.

In the deeper stages of sleep, your brain activity also changes. Memories are formed, learning is strengthened, and growth hormone is released. Human Growth Hormone promotes fat breakdown and increases muscle mass. That’s right, we build muscle in our sleep!

Sleep and Athletic Performance:

Dr. Cheri Mah from the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory conducted a telling research project on the impact of increased sleep on athletic performance. Dr. Mah measured the eleven members of the Stanford University Men’s varsity basketball team for a baseline period of 3 weeks during which time they slept about 7-8 hours per night. Then the athletes deliberately increased their sleep by 110 minutes and tried to stay in bed for 10 hours each night. After the sleep extension phase the athletes had faster sprint times, improved shooting accuracy (by 9% even from 3-point range!) and decreased fatigue. 

Training With Your Eyes Closed

One example of a critical restorative process that occurs while you are sleeping is the release of Human Growth Hormone (HGH). HGH promotes fat breakdown and increases in muscle mass, which allows the body to recover from the physiological stresses that occur during training. If you are sleep deprived and have less HGH in your system, not only will you restrict your body’s ability to recover while you are sleeping, but it also appears that you will limit your ability to exercise the next day. Lower levels of HGH may decrease the amount of time an athlete can exercise at maximum effort due to reduced energy stores in their muscles. So when you sleep your body repairs and heals itself and guess what – you’ll be able to exercise better the next day.

The more you can commit to getting a proper amount of sleep, the healthier and more effective you will be.

Today's POWER-UP: How to sleep like an athlete