For the next two weeks between me and my partner we were bottle feeding them every 2hrs, through the day and night taking it in turns who had the night shift, and between us both getting very little sleep while we tried to work and train at the same time until they were old enough to go on solid food. Four weeks later we have six healthy pups and our lives are back to normal, but it made me realise how important sleep was and how we can enhance this to help our performance.
Sleep has a number of important physiological and cognitive functions which are important to athletes, especially submaximal, prolonged exercise. Poor sleeping habits may also influence memory, pain perception and immunity and inflammation- reducing the effectiveness of recovery. Furthermore, changes in metabolism may also alter appetite, food intake and protein synthesis. These factors can ultimately have a negative influence on an athlete’s nutritional metabolism and endocrine status and therefore reduce performance.
According to a 2005 Gallup Poll in the US the average self-reported sleep duration of healthy individuals is 6.8hrs on weekdays and 7.4hrs on weekends. Sleep quality in athletes has only recently been looked at finding that a group of athletes had a total of 8hrs 36 in bed, but took longer to fall asleep and lower sleep quality, this is likely to be further exaggerated during competition period attributed to reasons such as pain, caffeine us, stress and worries.
So relating to nutrition what practical things can athletes do to help their sleep quality?
- Focus on good sleep hygiene to maximise sleep quality and quantity
- High GI foods may promote sleep but should be consumed more than 1hr before bedtime- this will include white rice, pasta, bread and potatoes
- Diets high in carbohydrate may result in shorted sleep latencies
- Diets high in protein may result in improved sleep quality
- Diets high in fat may negatively influence total sleep time
- When total caloric intake is decrease, sleep quality may be disturbed
- Small doses of tryptophan (1g) may improve both latency and sleep quality. This can be achieved by consuming approximately 300g of turkey or approximately 200g of pumpkin seeds