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Successful Sport Task Management Part 2: Regeneration and Sleep

We look at regeneration as the ability to recover from a given session, training phase or season and then be ready to move on to the next level.  Regenerative methods can include a wide variety of specific measures (sauna, massage, Epsom salt bath, etc) and for our purpose of moving from general to specific, we will focus on the two main influences on Regeneration – sleep and nutrition (nutrition in Part 3).

Sleep is an often overlooked performance requirement.  And yes, quality sleep is a requirement for improving performance levels.  Sound sleep promotes optimal hormone production and release as well as critical downtime for both the athlete’s body and mind.  These factors that occur during sleep (not during “rest”) allow for full use of the nutrition and training efforts accomplished by the athlete, which fosters higher-level recovery (regeneration!).

Athletes simply must get enough quality sleep to foster solid regeneration.  We recommend a total of 8 plus hours per night and upward of 60 hours per week of quality sleep.  If 8 hours plus per night is not possible and the athlete is not achieving 60 plus hours of sleep per night – we strongly recommend taking daytime naps to cover the deficit.

We wish not only to get enough sleep but to optimize our sleep in order to be fully recovered and ready to train to a higher level.  The first step in this process is to make it dark.  Quality sleep is best accomplished in total, or near-total, darkness.  Even very low-level light stimulus can cause unwanted waking and disrupt productive sleep.  We, therefore, recommend turning off or making dark all ambient light sources – clocks, phones, radios, TV’s, hallway lights, etc.  If this is not possible or only partially so, we recommend using a sleep mask to sleep in, which will block out almost all of the light in your bedroom.

Quality sleep also involves a quiet environment.  Again, this necessitates turning off phones, computers, TV’s, etc to make your sleep environment as quiet as possible.  White noise might be OK, and this is certainly an individual choice that should be made through experimentation, whether the white noise is coming from a fan, a humidifier/de-humidifier, or a “white-noise” machine.  Another consideration for turning off all unused electronics at night would be the RFI/EMI (radio frequency interference/electromagnetic interference) noise pollution that many modern electronics emit.  If loud and/or sudden noises cannot be kept to a minimum, we recommend using ear plugs (rather than headphones which will come off during sleep far easier) which will block out the majority of noises.

Sleep consistency involves maintaining consistent sleep and wake cycles.  Our bodies function on a Circadian rhythm which has evolved over time from the rising and the setting of the sun.  Athletes should do their best to get to bed early in the evenings as any sleep prior to midnight will help establish a more natural (in-line with the sun) sleep/wake cycle.  Optimal hormone production can also be assisted by an established, regular sleep and wake pattern.

Establishing a nightly routine prior to sleep as well as a morning routine upon waking can influence your quality of sleep as well as your general health and readiness for the day (and training and necessary nutrition) ahead.  30 minutes prior to sleep we recommend reducing all intense visual stimulation (TV, computer, video games, etc) which allows your visual cortex to wind down for the day.  Helpful habits that could be included in this 30 min period would be anything to get ready for the following day (training, breakfast/lunch/snacks ready, school/work things gathered) as well as any healthy habits such as brushing teeth, showering, and making sure that there is water by the bed.  This nightly routine should include any other helpful extras as well – Epsom salt bath, warm milk, meditation – simply be sure to use whatever extra habits help you get the quality sleep required for improved regeneration!

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