Coach Ozzy’s Sleep Guide For Athletes Part One:
Why is Sleep Important?

(Part 2 of my sleep guide)

Sleep makes up about one-third of our lives and is a crucial piece for high-end athletic performance and daily function, but it seems like there aren’t many athletes that take it nearly seriously enough. I believe a big chunk of this is due to a lack of knowledge on why it’s important, as well as the actual steps needed to get a longer, more fulfilling sleep.

We know from last week’s blog that sleep is one of the factors of performance that athletes have control over, so we’re going to try to take one of them and try to maximize it as much as we can.

While this article is tailored specifically for athletes, obviously all of us sleep regardless of whether or not we play a sport, so there will most definitely be important concepts for everybody to take and apply. Make sure to keep an open mind and actually try out some of the concepts given.

Of course, I’m not a sleep doctor, or even close to being one for that matter, but I did my research in hopes of creating a quick and easy to follow guide to help myself, my athletes, and everybody else reading to understand sleep a little better and experiment with ways to increase the level of athletic performance using it.

What Happens In The Body When You Sleep?

Other than dreaming about Cousin Eddie jumping into the pool that you’re going to buy with your big Christmas bonus (You are allowed to keep reading if you got that reference), you might not know what’s happening inside your brain and body while passed out, and frankly, you might not care. If that’s the case, feel free to close this tab and continue with your day. But the research I have done, and the hours of slaving over this blog post (Overdramatic? Probably) to deliver to the amazing supporters of Sled Dog Development was actually quite interesting, and knowing what sleep does and why it’s important for you is the first step to committing to good sleep practices.

Photo of Cousin Eddie at the pool

If you haven't seen the movie Christmas Vacation you're missing out big time!

Cycle of Sleep

The body actually cycles through a pattern of 4 stages each with a unique, but enticing name: Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, and Stage 4. I believe the guy that named them came away with a Nobel Prize that year. Different things happen in each stage including a mix of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non-REM sleep, REM being the time when dreams occur. Some stages are deeper than others, and some are more rewarding in the morning for athletes and non-athletes alike.

In a full 8-hour sleep, you will complete the cycle about 4-5 times. Knowing each stage isn’t super important for what we’re trying to achieve here, but having an understanding that all sleep isn’t the same is a good start. The most important thing to know is that bed-wetting usually happens in stage 3.

Physical Restoration

Maybe the most important aspect of getting a good night’s sleep for an athlete is the rest and recovery the body gets. Muscle repair, tissue growth, and protein synthesis (Getting swole) are all in full swing at night. Without proper recovery, training is pretty well useless and can actually be harmful.

Hormonal Changes

When it comes to sleep, the hormone that is most often brought to mind is melatonin, and for good reason. Your body works with your circadian rhythm to release melatonin when it gets dark, making you ready to hit the sack, and decreases levels when it’s light out.

Side Note on caffeine usage: Another hormone that accumulates during the day to make you ready for bed at night is adenosine. Adenosine levels go back down while you sleep making you ready to go in the morning. The reason caffeine gives you a hard time when you’re trying to sleep is that the stimulant heads to your noggin and blocks the adenosine receptors, making you less tired.

Most of the caffeine you consume is gone by about 5 hours, BUT, there’s usually still some lingering around ultimately giving you a rough time when you’re trying to sleep. If you’re craving a coffee in the afternoon, a good rule to try and implement is no caffeine afternoon. Stick to decaf and see how it affects your sleep. If there’s no change, go curse me out on Instagram for making you think twice about going on a Tims run when you were craving one.

Caffeine Affects Athletes sleep

Even though the effects don’t seem to last a long time, caffeine stays in the bloodstream for hours after consumption.

Neurological Function

From an athlete’s perspective, sleep can have a huge impact on learning and memory, important from both a strategic, and motor learning standpoint. Learning a new skill or movement one day, and then not retaining it properly overnight is frustrating for both an athlete and a coach.

Being in a tired state will also have an effect on the most basic component of sport, movement. Your brain will be a little bit sluggish after a poor sleep and not work as quickly. The longer it takes for your brain to send a signal to your arm, the slower your movements and reaction time are, perhaps letting in a goal you should have saved. At that point you have a good chance of getting drafted to the Edmonton Oilers, so we must avoid that at all costs.

While sleeping, the brain also plays a role in decision making, creativity, focus, as well as storing and organizing important information all the while getting rid of waste. That’s why I know all the lyrics to Vanilla Ice’s hit song Ice Ice Baby.

Affect on Sport Performance

It should now be clear to see why sleep is one of our 5 factors of performance. Not only do you recover and rejuvenate mentally and physically to go along with all the neurological benefits, but with a good night sleep, there are tremendous qualities to be had in each of the following categories that you might not think of right away:

  • Mental health
  • Productivity
  • Energy
  • Heart Health
  • Immunity
  • Concentration

Each of these factors can be tied back to having an effect on performance, making sleep a huge component to a successful athlete.

Hockey Players

Proper sleep can give you the edge on competition.

Important To Know

At the end of the day, all you really need to know is that sleep is very important, but being someone who doesn’t like to be told what to do without knowing why, I thought it would be a good idea to let you know about all the benefits before I start preaching different ways to make the most out of each night in Part 2 of my sleep guide. Part 2 gives you a good look at what has worked for me, and what others might recommend to find success at night.

This Week’s Easy Action

Stay up to date by following me on Instagram @OzzyStrength and by scrolling down and hitting the sign up button for our newsletter. Make sure you don’t miss out on next week’s Sled Dog Sunday, where I give you some quick and easy tips to try for yourself.