ENHANCING SLEEP IN ATHLETES
Shona L Halson
Head of Discipline, Australian Institute of Sport
Getting an appropriate quantity and quality of sleep is believed by many to be one of the best recovery strategies available to athletes. Restricting sleep to less than 6 h per night for four or more consecutive nights has been shown to impair cognitive performance and mood , disturb glucose metabolism , appetite regulation  and immune function . This type of evidence has led to the recommendation that adults should obtain 8 hours (h) of sleep per night.
EFFECTS OF SLEEP DEPRIVATION ON EXERCISE PERFORMANCE
There are a limited number of studies which have examined the effects of sleep deprivation on athletic performance. From the available data it appears that several phenomena exist. Firstly, the sleep deprivation must be greater than 30 h (one complete night of no sleep and remaining awake into the afternoon) to have an impact on anaerobic performance. Secondly, aerobic performance may be decreased after only 24 h  and thirdly, sustained or repeated bouts of exercise are affected to a greater degree than one-off maximal efforts [7, 8]. While much of the research has focussed on anaerobic performance, reductions is endurance running performance have been observed following 24 h of sleep deprivation . Interestingly, this occurred without any changes in physiological parameters and pacing.
The mechanism behind the reduced performance following prolonged sustained sleep deprivation is not clear, however it has been suggested that an increased perception of effort is one potential cause. While the above studies provide some insight into the relationship between sleep deprivation and performance, most athletes are more likely to experience acute bouts of partial sleep deprivation where sleep is reduced for several hours on consecutive nights. From the available research it appears that sub-maximal prolonged tasks may be more affected than maximal efforts particularly after the first two nights of partial sleep deprivation .
FROM THE SCIENTIFIC LITERATURE AND ANECDOTAL INFORMATION IT APPEARS THAT SLEEP DISTURBANCES IN ATHLETES CAN OCCUR AT TWO TIME POINTS: 1) PRIOR TO IMPORTANT COMPETITIONS AND 2) DURING NORMAL TRAINING. This sleep disruption during normal training may be due to a poor routine as a consequence of early training sessions, poor sleep habits (i.e. watching television in bed), nocturnal waking to use the bathroom, caffeine use, excessive thinking/worrying/planning and the effects of night-time competition.
Athletes should focus on utilising good sleep hygiene to maximise sleep. Strategies for good sleep include:
- The bedroom should be cool, dark and quiet. Eye-masks and ear-plugs can be useful, especially during travel.
- Create a good sleep routine by going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time.
- Avoid watching television in bed, using the computer in bed and avoid watching the clock.
- Avoid caffeine approximately 4-5 h prior to sleep (this may vary between individuals).
- Do not go to bed after consuming too much fluid as it may result in waking up to use the bathroom.
- Napping can be useful, however generally naps should be kept to less than one hour and not too close to bedtime as it may interfere with sleep.
Sleep is extremely important for numerous biological functions and sleep deprivation can have significant effects on athletic performance, especially sub-maximal, prolonged exercise. Athletes should focus on maintaining good sleep hygiene and practice good sleep routines to minimise the impact of sleep deprivation on performance.
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