Friday, June 13, 2008

Sleep and the Athlete

Sleep is an essential factor in obtaining good health. Through sleep, the body restores itself—the muscles recover from a day’s work and the other organs rejuvenate themselves. It plays an essential role in maintaining the physical, mental, and emotional health of an individual. Sleep is also essential in maintaining and improving the athletic performance of physically active individuals. Athletes and health buffs, among others, all need ample amounts of sleep to attain their peak level of performance.

A lack of sleep may have an adverse effect on one’s athletic performance and overall health. Studies show that about 30 to 36 hours without sleep may decrease an athlete’s time before reaching the point of exhaustion. A consistent lack of sleep may also impair cardiovascular performance by an average of 11 percent. An athlete who needs eight hours of sleep but only gets six will accumulate a large amount of sleep debt in 15 days, enough to hamper cardiovascular and athletic performance.

Lack of sleep may also lessen the ability to gain peak power while training, exercising, or engaging in other strenuous physical activities. For example, sprinting, and accelerating up hills may become a little difficult because sleep deprivation can lower maximum heart rate. It is also clear that a lack of sleep may hamper coordination and efficiency during exercise. In addition to these health effects, lack of sleep may also cause the body’s temperature to rise faster during exercise. This may increase the risk of exhaustion, among other health complications.

Because of the importance of sleep in terms of sports or athletic performance, it is important to give importance to one’s sleeping patterns. Changing one’s schedule for more than two or adding an hour or a couple of hours to one’s sleep on weekends may disrupt the body’s biological clock. Individuals who want to improve or enhance their athletic performance are advised to give importance to sleep and not just on their training.

The following are some of the guidelines that are recommended by health professionals to individuals who experience sleep difficulties:
  • Make sleep a part of your regular training regimen.
  • Extend nightly sleep for several weeks to reduce your sleep debt before competition.
  • Maintain a low sleep debt by obtaining a sufficient amount of nightly sleep (seven to eight hours for adults, nine or more hours for teens and young adults).
  • Keep a regular sleep-wake schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same times every day.
  • Take brief naps to obtain additional sleep during the day, especially if drowsy.
Individuals who experience chronic sleep deprivation may use medications that may help them improve their sleep patterns. There are a number of medications that are out in the market that are specifically designed to improve one’s sleep. However, these drugs should never be taken without the approval of doctors because of the side effects that they may bring. Some may hamper one’s athletic performance, rather than improve it. A clear understanding of sleep is essential in helping individuals achieve their health goals. These individuals are encouraged to have clear and effective communication with their doctors to achieve their goals.

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