It is well known that sleep is an important part of healthy living. But when life gets hectic, it is one of the first things to be sacrificed. A recent review article published in Sports Medicine highlights the importance of sleep on exercise performance.
The article reports on a common occurrence, where athletes tend to lose sleep, during the critical pre-competition period. Whether it is because they are training harder, leaving them less time to sleep, or simply finding it difficult to sleep because of stress and anxiety, the result is the same. That is, it is possible that their sleep deprivation is negatively impacting on their performance.
It is not certain exactly how or how much sleep affects performance, but various studies have shown that there very well may be a negative correlation. Reducing either sleep quality or quantity may lead to a reduction in sport-specific performance. There is evidence to show that poor sleep may lead to imbalances in the nervous system, which simulates symptoms of overtraining. In other words, if you feel like you are burning out, recovery slower, and simply just losing/not making gains, it could very well be due to lack of sleep. In addition there have also been reports of immune system dysfunction, which may ultimately lead to increased susceptibility to infections and diseases. Finally, a lack of sleep may also cause a reduction of mental and cognitive performance. This could lead to poor decision making and reaction times, which are critical in many sports. If we were to apply this to a sport such as rugby, imagine if you couldn’t decide whether to pass, kick, or run.
If you haven’t noticed by now, there are a lot of reasons for why you should sleep. Beyond these benefits for sports performance, sleep is also critical for lean muscle growth. This is because anabolic hormones such as testosterone and growth hormone are all released during sleep, while catabolic hormones like cortisol is reduced by adequate sleep. For more information, please refer to our article on Muscle Growth & Sleep.
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Fullagar HH et al, Sleep and Athletic Performance: The Effects of Sleep Loss on Exercise Performance, and Physiological and Cognitive Responses to Exercise. Sports Med. 2014 Oct 15. [Epub ahead of print]