If there was a supplement that you could take that provided the same benefits as a quality night of sleep, it would sell out all over the world … and potentially be a banned substance. To feel refreshed and energetic upon waking up, most adults require approximately 8 hours of sleep. To allow their bodies to recover from training sessions, athletes need between 9 and 12 hours of sleep. While more sleep improves health, sleep deprivation can have a range of debilitating consequences. It restricts cognitive function, can cause mood fluctuations, increases daytime tiredness, and impairs learning and memory. However, as much as science (and our body!) tries to remind us how important sleep is, most people aren’t practicing the basics, as well as they, should be.
Benefits of sleep
Sleep helps your brain to work properly, improves memory, assists with concentration, regulates hormones such as testosterone, and helps to repair and grow soft and connective tissues. The best type of broad-spectrum supplement that an athlete can take is a full 8 hours of sleep every night!
Faster reaction times
During a game, every millisecond counts. Inadequate sleep can greatly impair reaction time; 22 hours without sleep can impair an athlete’s reaction time as much as if they had consumed four alcoholic drinks. Poor sleep impairs judgment, while good sleep fuels the body’s ability to concentrate, remember and learn. When energy is running low, the brain has much more difficulty organizing and retaining new information. The best way that an athlete can prep for game day is by sleeping well in the nights leading up to the game.
In AFL football, players have to use their instinctive reactions to protect themselves from potentially injurious collisions. Tired athletes are slower to react, increasing the likelihood of injury. Additionally, insufficient sleep doesn’t allow the body time to repair from the stress of workouts and games. Further, because exhaustion also affects the immune system, sleep-deprived athletes are more susceptible to illness and overload-type injuries.
7 tips for better sleep
1. Aim for more hours of sleep before midnight
Think about it from a weekly point of view and aim to maximize your total sleep between 9 pm and 12 am. A weekly goal of between 10 and 1 5 hours is ideal.
2. Avoid afternoon caffeine
Caffeine has a 6-hour half-life, during which time it continues to stimulate the nervous system and can prevent the drinker from feeling at ease. As such, caffeinated drinks consumed in the afternoon can negatively affect sleep quality. For a better night’s sleep, avoid caffeine after 2 pm.
3. Switch off electronic devices
Devices such as smartphones and laptops radiate blue light, which confuses the brain, as it takes this as a sign that it’s still daytime and stops producing hormones such as melatonin that promote relaxation and deep sleep. Try to avoid watching TV or using laptops and mobile phones an hour before sleeping and turn to calm, relaxing activities instead, such as reading or coloring in.
4. Sleep in a dark room
Set up your bedroom so that it resembles a dark cave. This assists with your circadian rhythm, a natural internal process that helps to regulate melatonin production, and the sleep-wake cycle, which repeats approximately every 24 hours.
5. Create a sleep routine and stick to it
Establish a sleep and wake time and stick to it, even on weekends and especially in the lead-up to competition or game days. Irregular sleeping patterns affect your circadian rhythm and melatonin production.
6. Relax before bed
It can be very common for athletes to experience stress and anxiety in the lead-up to a competition or game day, especially the night before. This increases cortisol levels and negatively affects melatonin production. Physical and mental recovery techniques, such as massage, stretching, bathing, and meditation, can reduce stress and result in a good night of sleep.
7. Never stay up late for something that wouldn’t be worth getting up early for!
Jack McLean is the founder of Prepare Like a Pro. He loves coaching people so that they can reach their personal/professional goals and become the best that they can possibly be. He is currently the Strength & Rehab Coach of Melbourne Football Club and has worked as Strength & Conditioning Coach at Hawthorn Football Club. Jack is a Level 3 Australian Strength & Conditioning Association and Professional Coach and a Level 1 Australian Weightlifting Federation Coach.