We’ve all heard the saying, “You can sleep when you’re dead;” many of us are even guilty of using it as a personal motto. The reality is: Without sleep, you can’t perform. High personal and professional demands often push sleep to the wayside. However, sleep is a vital part of optimal physical, mental, technical, and tactical performance.
Sleep Myth #1: You can get by on just a few hours of sleep.
Nope. Researchers have discovered that there is indeed a gene that helps to explain why some people can function well on only four hours of sleep…this is the same gene has been linked with heart disease and diabetes (probably not something to brag about now, huh?!). In order to stay fit, healthy, and alert, most of us need 6-8 hours of sleep per night to ensure adequate physical and mental recovery.
Sleep Myth #2: You can catch up on sleep during the weekend. Wrong. Getting too little sleep during the week causes “sleep debt,” or chronic sleep loss. Studies have shown that getting a few extra hours of sleep on the weekend isn’t adequate to “pay back” your debt. One night of extra sleep can bring performance back up to normal levels for about six hours after waking, but after that performance deteriorates dramatically. In fact, reaction times become 10 times slower than they were earlier in the day.
Sleep Myth #3: Energy drinks are a substitute for sleep. The caffeine and sugar content in energy drinks can certainly give you a temporary energy boost, but it comes at a high cost: that dreaded energy crash 1-2 hours after consuming the drink. Decades of research indicates that caffeine–when used correctly–can be effective for increasing performance. However, many of us overdo energy drinks which can negatively impact sleep cycles. Those who drink multiple energy drinks per day reported getting less than four hours of quality sleep at night, which leads to even greater daytime sleepiness and impaired performance.
IMPACT OF SLEEP DEPRIVATION
When you don’t get enough sleep, your physical and mental performance suffers significantly. There are two types of sleep deprivation you should be aware of:
- Acute total sleep deprivation (ATSD) — no sleep or a severe reduction in sleep, usually lasting 1-2 days.
- Chronic partial sleep deprivation (CPSD) — when you routinely sleep less than the amount of sleep required for optimal functioning (typically 6-8 hours).
Research shows that physical strength, physical endurance, reaction time, short- and long-term memory, attention, and decision making are all adversely affected by both types of sleep deprivation. Additionally, your cognitive appraisal of performance is also compromised–your brain tricks you into thinking you’re doing better than you actually are. In fact, the negative effects of sleep deprivation on performance have been shown to be equal to the performance decrement due to alcohol intoxication. We all know what “beer goggles” can do…
Sleep should be as high of a priority as training when it comes to high performance. Find ways to get more, better quality sleep to improve your performance. Performance improvement won’t happen without adequate recovery.
Step 1. Work around your body’s natural circadian rhythm. Try to go to bed and get up around the same time every day – even on the weekends; this helps your body sync its internal alarm clock which helps you to be more alert when you wake up. Your alertness levels naturally ebb and flow during the day, so try to engage in activities that match your natural alertness levels.
- Morning Alert Zone — Occurs from about 0600-0900. Physical endurance is increased, as well as overall cognitive performance, including planning, strategy, learning. This is a good time for aerobic endurance workouts and any high-intensity cognitive tasks.
- Postprandial Dip — Occurs from about 1100-1300, right after you eat lunch. Both physical and cognitive performance decline. This is a good time for “check the block” tasks.
- Wake Maintenance Zone — Occurs from about 1500-2000. Physical power and strength increase, as well as cognitive vigilance. This is a good time for strength workouts, just make sure to get done with your workout at least 2-3 hours before bedtime.
Step 2. Avoid using caffeine 4-6 hours prior to bedtime. Caffeine temporarily blocks sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain and increases adrenaline production. It can have a stimulating effect as quickly as 15 minutes after consumption, but it takes about 6 hours for half of the caffeine to be eliminated in the body (depending on individual tolerance and body weight). Minimize or eliminate caffeine consumption in the afternoon so it won’t affect sleep.
Step 3. Create a “sleep routine” that doesn’t involve bright screens. Light “wakes up” your brain – the blue light emitted from electronics such as cells phones and TV suppress melatonin, a natural sleep aid secreted in your brain. So, let your brain and body wind down and prepare for sleep by incorporating activities that don’t involve a bright screen into your evening routine, such as reading or taking a warm shower.