|Optimising your sleep cycles for sport...and also for your health fitness.|
Kinsman BAppSci, IBLS-AIS, PhD Candidate
Sleep Science Editor
| Sleep seems to
be a misunderstood process in the general population. People are generally
unaware that sleep is comprised of different stages and that the stages
have specific functions for physical and mental recovery. When we talk
about sleep quality we are referring to the pattern of our sleep stages,
in particularly to the amount time spent in each sleep stage and the
amount of time we spend without waking or being aroused.
The most effective way to optimise our sleep quality is to improve
our sleep hygiene. As you may have already assumed, sleep hygiene
refers to the way we choose to practice our sleep habits. All humans
have a biological circadian rhythm that controls changes in our body
temperature, the release of circadian hormones and even our immune
responses. We can help optimise our sleep quality by falling asleep
when our body temperature peaks, which is usually in the evening.
However, we can also re-train our circadian rhythm by having consistently
late nights, which result in later peak temperatures. Inconsistent
bed times and poor sleep routine may leave you unaware of your optimal
There is little doubt surrounding the claims that moderate exercise and fitness training improve sleep, especially in people who suffer from sleep disorders that are caused from being overweight. The most obvious sleep stage affected by exercise is the deep sleep stage. In fact training can initiate a 3-fold increase in deep sleep. Because deep sleep facilitates the release of growth hormone we may even go as far to say that deep sleep is age preserving. It is also undoubted that people who exercise feel younger. Deep sleep occurs during the first third of the nights sleep and is compromised by delayed bed times. To improve sleep quality in terms of deep sleep it is important to avoid late nights or disturbing sleep environments.
Now we have mentioned growth hormone you begin to appreciate the value of deep sleep and are probably left asking "Is there anything else I can do to enhance deep sleep?" your answer is "yes", so keep reading .
Deep sleep should also occur during naps between high intensity sessions.
There are certain hypnogenics (sleep medication) on the market. Zolpiden, otherwise known as by its trade name has been found by researchers in 1995, to act on the glutamate pathways in the brain to induce and enhance deep sleep. Hypnogenics are banned in some sports such as fencing, archery and shooting but are not banned out of competition in any sport. However, sleep medication is only available by doctor's prescription and becomes ineffective with long-term use.
A less controversial way to enhance deep sleep is to vary your temperature within a few hours of going to bed. This can be achieved by hot and cold showering before bed.
The second important sleep stage to discuss is rapid eye movement
sleep (REM). This sleep stage is often reduced, possibly to the prolonged
time spent in deep sleep. However, in a normal sleep pattern, REM
dominates the last two thirds of our nights sleep. Unless morning
physical exertion raises the demand for deep sleep our afternoon sleep
is also likely to be dominated by REM. We can describe REM as the
'default' stage of sleep but we need to consider that too much REM
has adverse side effects. For example, excessive amounts of REM sleep
have been associated with depression and de-motivation. A common mistake
to make is the long 'recovery' sleep-in or long afternoon nap. They
can leave us waking de motivated and depressed, making it easier to
postpone our planned training session.
In summary, to exploit the benefits of sleep on sport, and also on
health and fitness, we must first assess what aspect of performance
needs improving. When your levels of motivation and mood are impaired,
you can decrease your amount of REM by limiting the duration of sleep
(for example avoiding sleeping-in). However, prior to maximal physical
performance it is important to not be REM deprived, otherwise, the
required effort for the performance is likely to be greater. It would
also be beneficial to wake from the REM cycle, for both cognitive
and physical morning performances.
When we talk about sleep quality we are referring to the pattern of our sleep stages, in particularly to the amount time spent in each sleep stage and the amount of time we spend without waking or being aroused.
There is little doubt surrounding the claims that moderate exercise and fitness training improve sleep, especially in people who suffer from sleep disorders that are caused from being overweight.
...to exploit the benefits of sleep on sport, and also on health and fitness, we must first assess what aspect of performance needs improving.
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