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Sleep is an Athlete's Best Friend

My oldest brother, the intellectual, writer-type of the family, gifted my mother a beautiful piece of calligraphy when I was 19.  Embossed on the canvas were few stanzas of poetry, one of them being:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

The lines come from a well-known work by Robert Frost, Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.If you have ever done a close reading of poetry, you know that the words are typically full of a deeper meaning, but Robert Frost in 1923, meant the final two lines to be quite literal, not so uncommon from phrases we often hear uttered including, “You snooze, you lose” or “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,”indicating that sleep is less while working longer hours, crossing one more item off the to-do list, cramming in that 30-minute run at the crack of dawn, scheduling those evening drinks, etc.are all more, and more is better and often praised. The need to sleep might be considered an unfortunate circumstance, especially considering the general recommendation for adults is 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night.  That equates to roughly 1/3 of your day, and that time can be quite valuable depending on your individual responsibilities, obligations and desires. What might be even more overwhelming to consider is that the athlete inyou might need closer to 9-10 hours per night to promote recovery and adaptation throughout training cycles and varying intensities of exercise.  Plainly stated, adequate sleep potentially translates into better performance.

During a sleep cycle, we work through several stages. Each stage boasts specific characteristics and body benefits.  It takes 90-120 minutes to travel through a full cycle of sleep. Thus, after a full night’s sleep you will have worked through the sleep cycle 4-5 times, receiving full benefits from each of the shorter-lived stages. If you are not spending adequate time in each sleep stage or working through the entire sleep cycle enough times in one night, performance can be impaired on several levels.

Neurocognitive

Endurance

Injury and Illness

Athletes typically pay very close attention to areas of nutrition, hydration, physical training/conditioning, mental preparation and equipping themselves with all the right gear to achieve these, but sleep often is overlooked, even seen as a waste of time especially in our over-stimulated, over-scheduled lives. While I do not believe nutrition, hydration, physical training/conditioning, and mental preparation are unimportant, I am suggesting that sleep should be another highly regarded contributing factor to athlete readiness, and it inserts itself into other areas of preparation in a unique way.  A small sleep deficit can very quicklycompound to the point that the effects become quite detrimental.  If you snooze, you might quite literally not lose.

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Dr. Maggie Burns