Whatever your goals are in the gym, whether it is adding 25 pounds to your bench or squat, running a faster mile, or just dropping a couple pounds, it’s natural to always latch onto the shiny, glossy, and seemingly painless new ways to get ahead with your goals.
It could be the brand new supplement that promises to work 800% better than its predecessor. Or the new apparel which guarantees to keep you twice as cool while also enhancing recovery. And on and on.
It makes sense– we are always looking for (painless) ways to make the most of our time in the gym.
After all, if there is a way that we can get more results from the effort we are already given, of course we are going to be all over that bad boy.
The foundation of consistent and better workouts isn’t some super duper secret available only to the top fitness nerds on the planet. And it doesn’t come in a bottle.
In fact, it is probably the absolute easiest way to improve your performance not only in the gym, but top to bottom in the rest of your life as well.
And did I mention that it is something I guarantee you love doing?
For those who have no idea where this is going, I’ll pull back the curtain for ya…
That often neglected, first-to-be-cut activity that we try to stuff in between work, play and the gym.
I get it, we’re a “work hard, play hard” society.
There is nothing in that mantra about “sleeping hard.” We hear over and over again that sleep is for suckas. Or that we will sleep when we are dead.
Horse crap, I say.
Getting a legit amount of sleep is the easiest way to not only get more out of your workouts at the gym, but also go through the day less grumpy, more focused, and will even help you live longer as a result.
So suck on that, “no sleep” crowd.
The science on the effects of sleep deprivation are fairly clear, and tend to send mixed signals.
On the one hand aerobic and anaerobic performance doesn’t appear to decline with sustained sleep deprivation.
A group of swimmers were tested after 4 days of 2.5 hours of sleep and researchers found that back and grip strength and lung capacity were not affected. Another study showed a group of collegiate athletes were able to sustain full anaerobic power after a night of sleep deprivation.
But before you get all excited about throwing sleep out the window, know this: Even just one night of shortened sleep leads to an avalanche of cognitive function issues.
Besides things like depression, tension and feelings of irritation (and who hasn’t experienced that when they are tired?), athletes will also experience negative side-effects to psychomotor function.
Things like your ability to focus. Or persist through challenging situations. Just one night of crappy sleep is even enough to adversely effect your ability to react.
And perhaps the most noticeable side-effect…
An increased rate of perceived exertion.
In other words, the work that you usually do when you are in a state of sleep deprivation feels more laborious and intensive than it usually does. Even though your output is the same, the effort it takes to create it is so much harder.
THE SLEEPING STATUS QUO VS. SLEEP EXTENSION
Okay, so you have seen what happens when we deprive ourselves of sleep. And you know it well based on extensive personal experience.
We get a little cranky, perceived rate of exertion goes up, but at least we are getting the work done.
So why bother with sleeping like a boss, right?
If you are serious about getting into killer condition, and want to maximize the time you are spending working out, than you need more sleep than the status quo.
You, my friend, are a candidate for sleep extension.
In order to see if sleep extension—getting a couple more hours of sleep per night—had any tangible benefits to athletic performance, Stanford University of Medicine researcher Cheri Mah found that Cardinal varsity athletes were able to dramatically improve their sporting performance by extending their nightly siestas.
Over the course of two seasons Mah worked with the basketball team and followed what happened when players slept a little bit more. The goal was for the players to sleep for 10 hours for a period of 5-7 weeks, at which point their performance was measured on the court.
The results were impressive:
- They ran a 282 foot sprint 0.7 seconds faster (16.2 vs. 15.5).
- Free throw percentages improved by 9 percent.
- 3-point shooting percentage increased by 9.2 percent.
- Players reported decreased fatigue (duh, right?), and a general sense of improvement in performance during practice and games.
Similar studies with the swim team, football players, and tennis team all yielded similar results, showing that better and more sleep led to better performance. No matter the sport, the way that their workout routine was conducted improved significantly.
HOW MUCH SLEEP DO ATHLETES NEED?
Most athletes are at least mildly aware that sleep is an important part of their training arsenal. The experience of being fatigued, both mentally and physically from consecutive nights of poor rest is a common one.
But invariably with any kind of article like this I get a question in the comments or in social media that goes a little something like this…
Interesting article, but I’m confused. How much sleep does my athlete actually need?
The truth is that the rest and recovery needs vary by athlete according to their own training circumstance. Some people require more sleep than others. There are people who can function highly off of 5-6 hours of sleep per night (I am absolutely not one of those people), while others require 9+ hours sleep.
Athletes doing the same amounts of training will require varying amounts of shut eye, and even the same person will require differing amounts of sleep based on how active they are being over different phases of their life, and will also require a different amount of sleep based on how active they are being at the time.
Conventional wisdom is that we should be getting 8 hours of sleep per night.
But this is the standard for the “average” person. If you are being highly active in the gym and on the trails extra sleep will be required to help you recover the damage being done to your nervous system and muscles. (The rebuilding and recovery process happens largely while you are asleep at night.)
The more you active and intense you are in the gym, the more sleep you will need to recover.
It’s safe to assume, however, that if you suffer frequently from even moderate amounts of daytime sleepiness that you are carrying around sleep debt that has been accumulating from regularly short changing your sleep.
Now, given that you hopefully better understand the benefits and pitfalls that come with screwing around with your sleep, you might be looking at your schedule and thinking to yourself…
Sounds great, but where am I going to find an extra hour in my day to get that sleep?
Look, we all love to think that we can no-stop, no-quit from rise till the moment we go to bed, but if you are serious about getting more quality sleep, than you need to get serious about managing your time.
If that means cutting your nightly Netflix binge short, than so be it.
More Stuff Like This:
- 15 Sleep Strategies for Athletes. This comprehensive guide to getting more sleep will help you power up your performance on the field and in the gym.