Counting the Hours

Counting the Hours

We’ve all heard it: the old adage that we need at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night in order to reach optimal functionality during the day. While that may be the case for us to be alert at work during the day and be able to last until a reasonable evening hour without falling asleep on the couch in front of the TV, your sleep needs may depend on your level of activity during the day. Athletes and generally active people may need additional rest than their sedentary counterparts. Let’s take a look at why your body needs sleep and the recommended amounts needed to not only maintain your active lifestyle, but to perform at your best.

Why We Sleep

We need sleep for a variety of reasons and, according to the National Sleep Foundation, when we sleep, our bodies are actively processing, restoring and gathering strength to face the following day. Not only does sleep mentally replenish our minds and solidify memory functions by allowing us to process all of the things that our brains took in on a given day, sleep helps our bodies “grow muscle, repair tissue and synthesize hormones”. These are all incredibly important functions for anyone who needs to be alert and astute during the day, but they’re especially important for any person who is trying to maintain an active lifestyle on top of other daily responsibilities.

Lack of Sleep

Lack of sleep can be detrimental to anyone, but it’s highly detrimental to athletes. According to Livestrong, lack of sleep affects nearly everything an athlete does. Your ability climb that last hill on your bike may be vastly different if you haven’t been getting enough – or even good quality – sleep. That softball swing might have some lag that wasn’t there before because your reaction time is a bit slower. Your ability to keep your head in that half marathon and finish that race strong may falter because your focus is fragmented and your attention span is diminished. Lastly, you may not be able to get that next training session in if you don’t sleep enough to let your body recover from the last grueling workout.

How much Sleep does an Athlete Really Need?

While the typical seven to nine hours of sleep per night may work for the average person, athletes will most likely need more. WebMD suggests that athletes should sleep at least one more hour per night for optimal performance. A Stanford University sleep study showed that basketball players who slept an extra two hours per night reported marked improvement in their free throw shooting, mental alertness and speed. In addition, WebMD suggests getting on a sleep schedule and avoiding excessive alcohol or caffeine. It’s important for your body to have the time it needs to recover fully, so you need to give yourself the best possible chance to experience a great night of sleep.

Athletic performance depends on a number of factors, all of which can affect how well our bodies handle the exertion. What we eat, how much we train, and how much we sleep are all major factors that all can change how well we perform on any given day. When it comes to taking proper care of our bodies, sleep is incredibly important so, just like you would with athletic training, set aside time to let your body and mind rest. Even if it’s one extra hour; you won’t regret it. You’ll not only wake up feeling refreshed, your workouts will get better and better.