Inadequate sleep can have hugely negative effects on our body and on our sporting performance. In order to recover from those gruelling training sessions it is essential to get the required amount of sleep in order to allow our body to recover. Usain Bolt, 6 time Olympic Gold medalist when asked what the most important part of his daily training regime was, he answered “Sleep - I need to rest and recover in order for the training I do to be absorbed by my body.” Now this is not to say that he won all those Olympic Gold’s by just sleeping. We are just iterating the point that sleep should not be underestimated when taking on something like an Ironman, marathon, or other endurance sport. Our culture of hyper busy people almost discourages a good nights sleep, with some bragging that they can cope on less than 5 hours of sleep a night.
Here’s how many hours some pro athletes get on average each night
Roger Federer - 11 Hours
Usain Bolt - 8-10 Hours
Lebron James - 12 Hours
Venus Williams - 9 Hours
Tiger Woods - 5 Hours
Rafael Nadal - 8-9 Hours
As you can see, all athletes above get a minimum of 8 hours sleep a night on average, with the exception of Tiger Woods.... perhaps that’s because his sport requires you to stroll around a field hitting a small ball with a club a couple of times an hour. (Sly dig at golf ;)
A Great night sleep is also crucial for water reabsorption as the kidneys balance water, sodium and the electrolytes during sleep. Without this - it can lead to dehydration which then leads to muscle pain and even poor performance. The majority of repair happens when the body is sleeping. The body will also repair and regenerate damaged tissues from the days workouts.
During these deeper stages of sleep human growth hormone is released which helps rebuild that damaged tissue whilst also building stronger muscles. It also crucially helps convert fat to fuel and keep our bones strong. Concentration can also be negatively impaired with a lack of sleep and we know concentration is essential for being able to “push” at the end of a tough race.
What you can do if you get limited nights sleep?
We know there are those nights when you get in late and have to be up early and with kids, sleep can’t always be scheduled however taking a 20-30 minute power nap can improve alertness by 100%.
If you can keep the alarm clock set for the same time each morning and have a time you get to sleep each night, it will help with your body knowing when it is shutting down and when it is time to wake. If you don’t do this you end up in a constant state of jet lag without ever leaving home.
As endurance athletes we must not underestimate the importance of sleep. Don't be one of those hero's that get's 4 hours of sleep a night - listen to your body and give it the rest time it deserves.