Thousands of athletes have made the voyage from countries around the world to Pyeongchang, South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics. They’ve spent years of their lives training for these next few weeks, however their training is never complete. Tonight, they’ll be engaging in one of the most important part of any athlete’s regimen: sleep.
Sleep is a vital part of every athlete’s game. It gives the body the valuable time it needs to rest, recover, and recharge. Lindsey Vonn and many other of the world’s top competitors, like Lebron James, are as meticulous about their sleep as they are their sport. Although most of you won’t be skiing down the slope or dribbling up the court anytime soon, sleep is still crucial for performing at your best. Read on to learn how a good night’s sleep helps athletes perform at an elite level and how it can help you bring your A-game!
Memory and Decision Making
A lack of sleep can lead to difficulty concentrating and diminished critical thinking skills. For an athlete with just tenths of a second to read a situation and react, a night of tossing and turning can mean the difference between victory and defeat. Sleep is also vital for encoding practice and skills learned during the day into memory. Although the body is resting, the mind is still hard at work processing the day’s developments.
Accidents and Injuries
Researchers at the University of California studying youth athletes determined that the athletes were much more likely to sustain an injury if they’d slept six hours or less the night prior. Pushing your body without giving it the time it needs to recover can lead to disastrous results. Athletes aren’t the only ones put at risk by sleep loss either. Adults operating on four hours of sleep are eleven times more likely to be involved in a car accident than drivers who got a full night’s sleep. Driving at this level of sleep deprivation is equivalent to driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08, which is the legal limit.
You don’t have to be competing for the gold to know how it feels to be sore after a long day’s work. Soreness is your body’s way of telling you that your joints and muscles need rest. Anyone who’s ever felt the aches and pains of pulling an all-nighter knows just how crucial sleep is to recovery. A good night’s sleep gives you time to repair and rebuild muscles, reinvigorating your body so you can get back out there and give it your all.
Weight Regulation and Fitness
In many sports, the difference between just a few pounds can have a drastic effect on an athlete’s performance; in some sports, athletes might not even be able to compete if they are not at a certain weight! Sleep plays a vital role in regulating the chemicals that transmit sensations of hunger to your brain, and without sleep these signals can go awry, leading to overeating and weight gain. Sleep loss can also have a serious effect on other related issues, increasing a person’s risk of diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
The Immune System
For an Olympic athlete, getting sick at the wrong time could mean missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. With flu season in full swing, there’s no such thing as being too careful. Sleep is an important part of keeping your immune system strong and ready to fight any virus or bug that might try to knock you off your game. Michael Jordan might have been able to play through the flu, but you shouldn’t have to.
Sleep Like the Pros
Here are some helpful tips, used by professional athletes and trainers, to realize your full sleep potential.
• Optimum Sleep Environment: the best conditions for deep sleep are a dark, quiet, cool room. Try using black-out curtains to shield the room from bright light, and consider a white noise machine if complete silence is not an option.
• Beds are for Sleeping: Although it’s tempting, doing work or looking at your phone while in bed can disrupt your body’s natural winding down process, making it harder to fall asleep when you want to. Remove distractions from the area and reserve the bed purely for sleeping.
• Have a Routine: Just like a training schedule, having a regular routine for when you sleep, and how you prepare for sleep, is crucial. Everyone is different; but try to develop a routine that works best for you and shoot for around eight hours of sleep every night.
Enjoy watching this year’s Olympics, and remember, sleep is just as crucial to health and fitness as diet or exercise. You might not compete in the Olympics, but with these tips, you can still perform at your best.