Studies and experts alike say we should all be snoozing for seven hours a night (and pro athletes sleep even more).
Sleep is sleep, right? So why do you need to track it?
But for many of us, even the minimum of seven hours is as unachievable as shaving two hours off your marathon time. In other words, it may be doable, but it’ll take serious sacrifice, major lifestyle changes, and possibly some live-in help.
But sleep is sleep, right? So why do you need to track it?
Here’s what Michael Breus, PhD, DABSM, the clinical psychologist best known as “The Sleep Doctor,” says athletes in particular need to understand about the importance of tracking sleep.
Sleep can seriously help – or majorly hinder – your athletic performance
You may think, “sleep is sleep,” and that if you’re snoozing, it’s quality shut-eye. “But that’s not the case,” Breus says, “both quality and quantity of sleep can affect your performance.”
The good news is that there are several quantifiable aspects that you can monitor:
“Lack of deep sleep decreases glycogen storage,” Breus explains. “Without fuel in the tank, athletes run on reserves, and sleep deprivation can cause many negative effects, including testosterone reduction, human growth hormone reduction, increased energy expenditure, reduction in muscle memory, and increased inflammation.”
“Hundreds of studies show that decreased quality and quantity of sleep cause an increase in reaction time,” Breus says. Not what you want when you’re out on a training ride and a squirrel – or a car – darts out in front of you.
“Hand/eye coordination has been directly linked to sleep deprivation,” Breus says.
“Studies show that sleep deprived individuals will know the risks of their decisions, but will not care what those risks are, and may take risks unnecessarily,” Breus says.
“During all stages of sleep, the mind and brain are working to process new memories, consolidating them into long-term storage and integrating recently acquired information with past experience,” Breus says. In other words, you need sleep in order to boost your brain activity.
“Sleep deprivation, sleep disturbance, and circadian rhythm disturbance all affect the overall restorative aspects of sleep, and can lead to an increase in your perception of pain.”
So while getting seven hours a night may be the goal, making sure you’re getting at least a few good hours is perhaps equally important. And the only way to know whether you’re getting solid sleep is to track it.
Athletes are generally better sleepers than their inactive counterparts
Sure, we’ve all been tempted by the snooze button. But for the most part, Breus says, athletes sleep better than others. “They may not get more sleep, but they report better quality sleep,” he says.
“In addition, they tend to also have a more regular schedule, which can be helpful.” The night before a race, though, athletes tend to fess up to poor sleep on account of pre-performance jitters. (Raise your hand if you can personally vouch for this statistic.)
The snooze button is your enemy.
As for that snooze button: resist!
“The snooze button is your enemy,” Breus says. “The average snooze is 7–9 minutes long, and that’s not enough time to get back into a good stage of sleep. So by hitting snooze, all you’re doing is giving yourself light, crappy sleep.”
A bad night’s sleep can be the ultimate game-changer
“It can be the difference between gold and not being on the podium,” Breus says.
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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.