How Sleep Can Boost your Performance When Doing Sports
We spend nearly a third of our life sleeping, and that’s a good thing because our physical and mental well-being rely on it. A number of latest studies have shown that sleep is not only beneficial to health but also has a bidirectional relationship with sport performance. In other words, quality sleep impacts sports performance positively while exercising regularly will improve the quality of sleep.
A proper sleep is important – for athletes and for hobby sports people. For example, Usain Bolt, superstar of the 100-metre sprint, had been napping 30 minutes before he broke the world record. He regularly took naps before winning important competitions, such as the gold medal at the 2012 Olympic final.
Experts at Emma have stated that the bidirectional relationship between sleep and exercise should not be underestimated. In order to perform at our best in sports and to keep our bodies healthy, we need to understand the power of sleep.
The importance of quality sleep
We spend nearly a third of our life sleeping, and that’s a good thing because our physical and mental well-being rely on it. We can feel the comfort of a quality mattress instantly in our bodies as we rest on one, but understanding why quality sleep is important goes beyond relaxation.
As shown in the diagram, sleep is divided into three stages: light-sleep, deep-sleep and rem-sleep, each of which has its own important functions:
- Remove junk from the brain and consolidate memory
Our brains store a lot of junk throughout the day. You can visualize the spam box of your email account with your eyes closed, no doubt, full of trash ready to be emptied. Eliminating waste also frees up space in the brain which allows us to store knowledge when studying, to solve problems and to consolidate memory.
- Regulates metabolic and hormonal processes and strengthen the immune system.
Sleep enables specialized immune cells, called T cells, and Natural Killer (NK) cells to work more efficiently at fighting off infections. It is specifically important to get sufficient sleep after getting a vaccination boost as it will boost the production of T cells and NK cells in order to enhance the antibody response. Insufficient sleep may jeopardize the effectiveness and potency of vaccines.
- Balance emotions
Rapid eye movement (REM) is the shorter period of sleep that follows non-REM sleep in which your eyes move around quickly but they don’t send any visual information to your brain. This is when we dream and this is when the brain enables the reprocessing of upsetting memories and experiences in a stress-free state because at this stage concentrations of the stress-related, anxiety-triggering chemical called noradrenaline are shut off.
How sports positively affects sleep
Our habits can have either a positive or a negative impact on sleep. Sports is a great habit to have, as exercise stimulates the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which activates the alerting mechanism in the brain, so exercising regularly will improve the quality of your sleep.
Theories suggest that total sleep duration and the amount of deep sleep increase after a high-energy expenditure because our bodies need sleep even more then. It’s understood that exercise during the day could facilitate and foster sleep. Experts at Emma recommend a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise but only 2-3 hours before sleep. Some studies suggest that athletic people tend to need longer exercise duration to stimulate a sleep benefit.
Moreover, sports can have a positive impact on sleep for those who have been suffering from insomnia. In addition to its physiological benefits, exercise can also provide individuals with a sense of control and self-efficacy over their own sleep patterns, which can be just as effective in coping with sleep disorders.
How quality sleep impacts your sports performance
In a study by Matthew Walker and colleagues (2003), positive effects of sleep on learning motor sequences are seen. The motor movements we practice in sports training leads to a degree of improvement, thus supporting the motto “practice makes perfect”. Perhaps the more interesting point, though, is that sleep after training leads to further performance improvement. Sleep is crucial to process the movement sequences properly, to store each small move carefully and turn all into instinctual habits that allow us to perform the activity automatically in a flawless and almost unconscious manner. If we do not allow ourselves to get enough sleep after training, we miss out on this additional learning success.
M. Walker and colleagues helps us enhance our motor skill but light sleep phases (also called sleep stage N2). If we do not give ourselves enough sleep after our sports training, and especially the last two hours of sleep, we will not benefit optimally from the training. In other words, it is better to get more sleep before you do a big sports tournament the next day than doing a final workout before, like 2 hours early in the morning, as the light sleep phases will make you benefiting from all the training that you have done in preparation for your big tournament.
Cleaning up with the myth: Does exercising close to bedtime negatively impact your sleep? Experts at Emma have stated that it is across-the-board wrong to say that exercising close to bedtime has a negative impact on sleep. Exercising in the evening can help align our inner clock to our sleep schedule and facilitate falling asleep due to changes in the core body temperature. Again, this cannot be generalized to all people, so everyone should identify their own preferences and observe whether exercise in the evening promotes or inhibits their sleep. But rather than demonizing it in general, it is worth a try, as for many of us this time of day could be optimal to exercise.
In other words, if you are looking forward in getting a good night’s sleep, it would be ideal for you (based on your inner clock, so check it first) to get heated up by exercising, taking a nice hot shower after and hop into bed before your body temperature drops – you will fall asleep faster and start dreaming in no time.
Whatever exercise time slot ends up working for you, never forget that, overall, exercise is a key component to achieving quality sleep.
Recommendations on exercising and getting good quality sleep
Neurobiologist and Head of Sleep Research at Emma – The Sleep Company Dr. Verena Senn said: “Exercising supports better sleep. Current research shows that physical activity balances the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system which is i.e. responsible for whether we are tense or relaxed, but also affects your digestion, blood pressure, heart rate, breathing (respiratory) rate, body temperature, and emotional responses. Besides our internal clock which is in charge of regulating our sleep-wake cycle, this healthy interaction between our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system is crucial for falling asleep easily and having a qualitative night of sleep. Therefore, if you want to take care of yourself and your sleep, you should exercise regularly.”
Facing the new daily routine of working from home, experts at Emma recommend adopting sleep hygiene practices and getting the daily recommended hours of sleep. The National Sleep Foundation generally recommends the following: 14-17 hours for new-born, 12-15 hours for infants, 11-14 hours for toddlers, 10-13 hours for preschoolers, 9-11 hours for school-aged children, 8-10 for teenagers, 7-9 hours for young adults and adults, 7-8 hours for older adults.
Here are a few general tips according to the experts:
- Have a regular bedtime routine
- Adopt sleep hygiene practices
- Do not lie in bed awake
- For some people: exercise at least ~30 min./day but not later than 2-3 hours before bedtime
- For others: exercise at least 1 hour a day but not later than 2-3 hours before bedtime
- For athletic people, consider sleeping more
- Do not take naps after 3pm
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcoholic drinks
- Avoid large or heavy meals and drinks late in the evening
- Give yourself time to relax before going to bed (not by watching TV!)
- Keep your bedroom dark, cool and free from any electronic devices, such as phones, tablets, laptops, TVs, etc.
- Take a hot bath, cuddle with your beloved or make yourself comfortable in a fluffy, warm blanket before bed
- Last but not least: Invest in a comfortable, high-quality mattress, pillow and bed linen!
About Emma – The Sleep Company
Emma – The Sleep Company is a founder-managed sleep technology company and the world’s leading D2C sleep brand that continues to make breakthroughs in sleep technology. The company has two brands, Emma and Dunlopillo (brand ownership: Germany and Austria), and its flagship product, Emmabed-in-a-box, is currently available in more than 30 countries, sold directly to consumers through an omni-channel customer experience that includes more than 1,700 stores.