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Athlete Sleep Diaries 1 : “Taking Back Control Of Sleep And Recovery”

This article is the first of a four-part blog post series, The Athlete Sleep Diaries, with each post featuring a real-life Polar Ignite user experience. This series reveals what four athletes learned about sleep tracking and using the data and insight to improve their sleep and recovery .

Ask any doctor, fitness professional or coach, and they’ll tell you how critical sleep is in regards to athletic performance and recovery. Essentially, during sleep, the body rebuilds and recharges, and quality sleep habits reduce the risk of injury, illness and both mental and physical fatigue.

You likely know that sleep is key, but do you know how much sleep your body really needs to recharge and whether your sleep is really quality sleep? Sure, you can roughly estimate the amount of sleep you’re getting based on the time you go to bed and the time you get up, but that’s only part of the picture…

To help you analyze and actually use your sleep and recovery data to make changes for the better, we asked four athletes to track their sleep and recovery with the Polar Ignite fitness watch and share what they learned and how getting insight into their sleep led them to change their habits.

To kick off this four-part sleep extravaganza, we first reached out to Rachael Newsham, Program Director at Les Mills, who has not only transformed her life through fitness, but as her profile so eloquently puts it, she has “inspired tens of thousands to get hooked on regular exercise, trained thousands of instructors, and developed hundreds of workouts along the way.”

Here, this Les Mills super pro shares her key takeaways from tracking and analyzing her sleep with screenshots of her data – complemented by some additional Polar sleep tracking info and tips.

My Sleep before tracking

Before tracking my sleep (and making permanent changes), I normally slept around 6.5 hours per night and woke up feeling stiff, sore and mentally fatigued.

What added to the challenge of getting enough sleep was my job that requires a a great deal of traveling. I fly between countries and time zones on a regular basis, often feeling like I’m chasing sleep and the feeling of “freshness” constantly.

After I started wearing the Polar Ignite during the night, it completely changed the way I viewed my sleep and recovery time in regards to my performance.

Polar Sleep Info: SLEEP STAGES

If you use a Polar watch with Sleep Plus Stages™, your sleep score summarizes how much and how well you’ve slept. The scale of the sleep score is 1 – 100, and a typical sleep score is around 70 to 85.

The six components of the sleep score are grouped under three themes: amount, solidity and regeneration. Each bar in the sleep graph represents the score for each component. Sleep score is the average of these scores.

Comparing the components of the sleep score to your own usual level help you recognize which aspects of your daily routine may affect your sleep and may need adjusting.

Nightly breakdowns of your sleep are available on your watch and in the Polar Flow app. Long-term sleep data in the Polar Flow web service helps you analyze your sleep patterns in detail.

COld Hard evidence

What the Nightly Recharge™ feature enabled me to do was see the full picture in cold hard facts with actual evidence to back up my subjective feeling:

  • The score of sleep disturbance
  • The autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity
  • How much moving around during the night

These numbers directly matched to how I was feeling when I woke up – whether I was feeling great or rubbish. I could see when my body was more at peace when I was sleeping and when it was working hard to repair itself when I was sleeping.

This was a game changer.

I could now see direct scores and results that were easily relatable to my perceived sense of sleep quality and general sense of vigour and energy.

I love seeing how my breathing rate changes during the night, and it was interesting to see I breathe more when I have nightmares! The beat-to-beat intervals show me when my heart isn’t working as hard or when it’s working harder than it should — that’s when I know I’m getting susceptible to a lower immune system and need to get more rest to recharge and avoid getting sick.

Polar Sleep Info: NIGHTLY RECHARGE METRICS

The ANS charge is a metric that consists of three parameters — heart rate, heart rate variability and breathing rate — that can be used to measure fatigue and predict illness.

Heart rate is mainly regulated by the ANS. Your average heart rate during roughly the first four hours of sleep is measured. A normal value for adults can range between 40 and 100 bpm. It is common for your heart rate values to vary between nights. It’s best to compare your last night’s value to your usual level.

Heart rate variability (HRV) refers to variation in the time between successive heart beats. HRV can vary greatly from person to person, ranging from 20 to 150 so it’s best to compare your last night’s value to your usual level.

  • A higher HRV reflects the higher activation of the part of ANS responsible for resting and digesting.
  • In general, high heart rate variability is linked to general good health, high cardiovascular fitness and resilience to stress.

Breathing rate shows your average breathing rate during roughly the first four hours of sleep, calculated from your beat-to-beat interval data. Your beat-to-beat intervals shorten when you breathe in and lengthen when you breathe out.

During sleep, breathing rate slows down and varies mainly along with sleep stages. Typical values for a healthy adult at rest range from 12 to 20 breaths per minute. Your breathing rate doesn’t normally vary a lot. Higher values than usual may indicate a fever or impending illness.

Surprising sleep insight

I landed home in New Zealand after a long-haul flight and several weeks on the road, and had the best sleep I had experienced in a long time.

I took a look at my watch and saw the quality and the amount of hours of sleep and then decided it was time to go to bed earlier every night, before 9 p.m. I would monitor how I felt every morning and it paid off.

I started to take back control of my recovery and I felt more invested in being disciplined with my choices and putting myself first.

With Polar Ignite, I can now consistently track my recovery and feel in control rather than at the mercy of travel life, and my performance at events is fresher and I enjoy it a whole lot more.

Polar Sleep Info: OPTIMAL AMOUNT OF SLEEP

There isn’t any one specific amount of sleep right for everyone, but looking at both sleep quality and the number of sleeping hours can help you decide the optimal time for you to go to bed in order to feel rested and recovered in the morning.

Sleep and the required amount of rest are individual and affected by several factors like training load, stress, your body’s condition and individual differences. The recommended sleep range for adults is 7 to 9 hours.

The optimal amount of sleep for you is the one that leaves you feeling alert and full of energy to perform at your best at work, when training and in your daily life activities.

Coming up: More athlete stories waiting to be shared, sleep secrets to be revealed… so stay tuned! Maybe even subscribe to our fitness newsletter to make sure you don’t miss the next chapter!

If you liked this post, don’t forget to share so that others can find it, too.

Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

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