Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night. -William Blake
At Sparta, we make a point to stress the importance of what we call regen (nutrition, soft tissue work and sleep) with our athletes as much as the preparation they do in the gym with us us, or on the field. Unfortunately, we find sleep is something that athletes don’t always take as seriously as they should.
In a study from 2014 from Central Queensland University, researchers found there was a marked difference in the athletes’ sleep/wake behavior on training days and rest days.
Linear mixed model analyses revealed that on nights prior to training days, time spent in bed was significantly shorter (p = 0.001), sleep onset and offset times were significantly earlier (p < 0.001) and the amount of sleep obtained was significantly less (p = 0.001), than on nights prior to rest days. Moreover, there was a significant effect of sleep duration on pre-training fatigue levels (p ≤ 0.01). In particular, early morning starts reduce sleep duration and increase pre-training fatigue levels. When designing schedules, coaches should be aware of the implications of the timing of training sessions for sleep and fatigue. In cases where early morning starts are unavoidable, countermeasures for minimizing sleep loss – such as strategic napping during the day and correct sleep hygiene practices at night – should be considered.
What is a good study? We think this is an excellent study, and it’s not just a matter of opinion. The study tested athletes (not just students), and the data was collected longitudinally (not one day in a lab). In many cases, researches can’t get a large enough sample size if they limit their study to elite athletes, so they will include subjects from the general population. This makes the data less relevant to athletes. This study data was collected from 70 nationally ranked athletes from seven different sports. The athletes wore wrist activity monitors and completed self-report sleep/training diaries for 2 weeks during normal training, making the study longitudinal.
We treat sleep like an exercise because it can make you more resistant to fatigue (just like training). In fact, when you look at it that way, if you sleep and recover well you can actually don’t need to train quite as much! The consequence of more training, or more intense training, requires more sleep to recover. Because sleep is an objective measure that can and should change what you do, we encourage logging sleep hours and quality on our app, just like a squat or deadlift. From our scale of 10/10 points, sleep quantity and quality play the largest contributor than any other recovery habit or measure due to its broadest benefits.
In the study, shorter sleep durations were associated with higher levels of pre-training fatigue both in their performance and a subjective questionnaire. Other studies on athletes have found lower sleep to be associated with significantly higher injury rates as well. So if the end goal of your training is performance and health, sleep cannot be lower on the prescription priority scale than training, so at least try and make them of equal importance.
Plan ahead! The study concludes that, “Taken together, these findings suggest that the amount of sleep an elite athlete obtains is dictated by their training schedule.” Like training, sleep has no shortcuts, so planning is very important. Many athletes try and combat fatigue with nutritional gimmicks or supplements, but more (and better) sleep would be so much more effective.
The Sparta sleep checklist: – cold, pitch black room (like a cave) – shoot for 9.5 hrs/ a night – same wake-time every day