The Importance of Sleep

Posted by Resilient Performance Physical Therapy in Blog on April 15, 2024

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What is your Circadian Rhythm? 

As humans we have an internally generated circadian rhythm that is not solely dependent on the sun. This rhythm is what helps us maintain a predictable sleep and wake cycle. It is regulated through our suprachiasmatic nucleus also referred to as our 24 hour biological clock. This sits in the middle of our brain where our optic nerves cross which is why we also use daylight to set our 24 hour clock. Our body also uses core body temperature to help regulate our rhythm. We go through a natural cycle of temperatures rising throughout the day and falling at night, much like the outside temperature. 

The “Vampire” Hormone

Many of us have heard about melatonin, but do we know its purpose in the body? It is our body’s signal that it is dark out and starts to rise soon after sunset. Melatonin serves as a signal to let us know it is getting time for sleep. Although contrary to popular belief, melatonin has little effect on our generation of sleep and starts to decrease once we are asleep. This may be something you want to consider when you are supplementing melatonin. Light can delay the release of melatonin so it is important to not be in a bright environment leading up to bedtime. 

Sleep Pressure

Another hormone that is very important in our sleep regulation is adenosine. As you are awake this hormone starts to build up throughout the day, the more we have circulating throughout our body the more “sleepy” we are. It takes anywhere from 12-16 hours to reach its peak in the body, just when we are ready for bed. 

What is the Caffeine Crash? 

Have you ever experienced the caffeine crash? This is actually due to caffeine blocking the adenosine receptors in the brain and tricking you into thinking you are alert. Once the caffeine starts to wear off in the body you are instantly hit with the “sleepiness signal” that has now built up all day coming from adenosine. You now feel the weight of this sleep pressure and the caffeine crash has begun. On average it takes about 5-8 hours to purge most of the caffeine through your body, but this can vary depending on the individual.

Alcohol vs. Sleep 

Although at the time you may enjoy drinking, you usually don’t feel great the next day. A huge reason for this is because of the effect alcohol has on your sleep patterns. Alcohol is a sedative and mostly focuses on sedating the prefrontal cortex that controls impulses and restrains our behavior. I am sure we have seen or experienced the effects of too much alcohol and being sedated into a “stupid state”. Although you are sedated out of wakefulness you are not actually in a natural sleep. Your sleep is now fragmented and is not restorative. So, even if you sleep for hours after a night out you will never feel well rested. This is something to consider if you have a big event or game to play in the days following. You may also want to consider not reaching for a drink right after a big game as that night would be a vital time to rest and recover from the hard day. 

Learning New Skills 

Sleep can play a huge role in your memory and overall skill retention, whether that is on the field or in a classroom or at your office. Having adequate sleep leading up to learning a skill puts your brain at the best capacity for learning. You will be refreshed and ready to make new memories. There is also the importance of sleep after learning a new skill. This is what helps our brain click the save button and protects our newly learned memories. Everyone refers to muscle memory when it comes to exercising, but it is actually brain memory that may help you better execute a skill when it comes to training and strengthening your muscles. “Practice does not make perfect. Practice followed by sleep makes perfect” – Dr. Matthew Walker 

How Can Sleep Affect Our Athletes? 

Most of the topics above can affect how an athlete performs on the field or in practice, but there are many more factors that can be altered by your sleep patterns as well. For most athletes it is suggested to have at least 7-9 hours of sleep with 9 hours minimum for elite players. By not having adequate sleep you can see a few areas affected in their performance. Some of this will include learning skills and decision making on the field, decreased reaction times and accuracy, quicker exhaustion levels, overall decrease in aerobic output and a decrease in your power and strength. On the contrary, think of what an adequate amount of sleep and recovery can do for all of these factors? 

Tips to Sleep Better 

Now that we have learned a little bit about sleep and what factors can contribute to the most optimal recovery, let’s discuss some tips to improve your sleep. Try to start your morning off with sunlight first before electronics. You want to get outside within 30 minutes of waking up to help set your circadian rhythm. You also want to set a sleep schedule and try to follow that roughly the same time every day of the week. Find a “wind down” routine that helps your body prepare for bed every night. Avoid nicotine, caffeine and alcohol if possible. Do not exercise 2-3 hours before bedtime so you give your body enough time to decrease your core temperature to be ready for sleep. A dark and cold room is the best environment for sleep. Do not use a TV or phone in your bedroom and try to set your temperature around 65 degrees F. Dim the lights once the sun has set and don’t have large meals or beverages too close to bed. Remember sleep and recovery plays a major role in your brain and body’s function and is especially important for recovery after injuries.

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