There is limited evidence of the sleep requirements of athletes and their characteristics but it is likely that sleep is one of the most important factors for an athlete’s recovery. Achieving the appropriate quantity and quality may not only have significant implications on an athlete’s performance, but being able to identify athletes who may have trouble with sleeping patterns may be critical in indentifying athletes who are at risk of overtraining.
Why do we need sleep?
There have been three proposals put forward (Frank 2006),
-Restoration of immune function and endocrine systems
-Restoration of nervous system
-For brain function- learning and memory
However it is likely that it is a combination of all three.
How can you get better sleep?
Tryptophan- This essential amino acid is converted to serotonin and may improve sleep onset, further research is needed in terms of timing and dosage.
But foods high in Tryptophan can be easily included in your healthy evening dinner- Milk, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, beans, cheese and leafy green vegetables, or by having a hot chocolate before you go to bed.
High GI Foods- can alter serotonin levels and may increase the ratio of free tryptophan and branched chain amino acids- this is recommended 4hours before your normal bedtime, which for many athletes who train in the evening will work as a recovery snack.
There are also things to avoid:
Alcohol- although this can help with the initial sleep phase it will cause disturbances in the second half, and therefore will decease the overall quality of sleep.
Caffeine- is a mild stimulant and therefore will impair sleep, but there are different tolerances. This can be a negative for athletes who use it for performance enhancement, particularly in an evening session.
Possible strategy is to encourage it for finals or major competitions not the first rounds or heats.
Hyper-Hydration- Even simply getting your hydration right after training can affect your sleep. Consuming too much fluid following training can result in the athlete being hyper-hydrated and therefore likely to be disturbed throughout the night with trips to the toilet.
What else can you do?
•Sleep supplementation such as naps can have a positive influence of cognitive tasks. However nap appropriately- no more than 45mins and not late afternoon.
•Warm your hands and feet in cold environments
•Eliminate a bedroom clock
Nutrition, sleep and recovery Halson (2008); European Journal of Sports Science March; 8 (2): 119-126.