June 12, 2013

    Is Sleep More Important than Nutrition?

    When we work with individual athletes or professional organizations, a major emphasis is on regeneration. After all, if you are competing at a high level, the need to stay there is paramount. Regeneration, or regen for short, is the process of renewal, restoration, and growth that creates resilience to damage.

    Yet, nutrition always seems to be the most overrated aspect of regen, and any other recovery effort seems to pale in comparison. This outlook likely comes from the association of nutrition with how you look in the mirror. This correlation is correct; your appearance (i.e. your six-pack) has far more to do with nutrition than how you exercise.

    BUT, how you look does not necessarily guarantee sport success. In fact, sometimes fatter athletes just perform better in their sport. Luckily, some other major regen efforts, besides nutrition, might have even greater effects on your athletic performance.

    Validity is the Key…Again

    We discussed last week the concept of validity, or the correlation between your efforts and your goal (i.e. regeneration’s direct effects on power anaerobic sport performance. Recently however, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recently released two new studies on the effects of fatigue and sleep amongst major league baseball players (MLB). Baseball is a great sport to assess the effects of fatigue and sleep because it is an explosive sport with high levels of brief attention and high levels of skill. Therefore, fatigue is particularly mental and/or emotional as opposed to physical.

    The first study found that MLB players’ strike-zone judgment was worse in September than in April in 24 of 30 teams. The authors noted that the results are strikingly consistent and seem to contradict the conventional wisdom that plate discipline should improve during the season through frequent practice and repetition (learning). Thankfully, sleep is one of the best ways to “engrain” and ensure these learning processes occur.

    The second study found a significant and profound relationship between the sleepiness of a MLB player and his longevity in the league. The sleepiness was evaluated by a subjective report by 80 MLB players, similar to the regen scale our athletes report using the Sparta Regen app.

    The Mechanisms behind Sleep’s Benefits

    1. Increased plasticity

    Plasticity can be defined by how entire brain structures, and the brain itself, can change from experience, and in this case, lead to improved skills. These last 2 hours of sleep are significant because they represent a much greater electrical activity of spindles that trigger a key mechanism for plasticity.

    2.  Growth Hormone (HGH)

    The peak time for HGH secretion in humans is about an hour after you fall asleep and greatest during slow wave sleep (deep sleep). Therefore, the longer you sleep, the more, you maximize HGH.

    3.  Cortisol

    Any disruption of your normal circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle), significantly increases cortisol secretion. Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone,” it increases your blood pressure and blood sugar, and reduces your immune responses.


    While this data is valid, it is useless without action. So you need to begin the process improving your sleep, basically developing a pre-bed routine just like you have a pregame routine.

    1. Log your sleep every day = 9.5 hours average need for athlete

    2.  Consistent sleep and wake hours = maximize your personal internal ‘clock’

    3.  Improve environment = a cool, dark, and quiet ‘cave’

    Travel schedule is one of the major obstacles to establishing a good routine. Cheri Mah, Stanford sleep lab expert, finds it takes 1 day/time zone to adjust your body clock, so provides our athletes some general tips for traveling

    • Stay on PST if you do not have adequate time to adjust to EST, i.e. 1-2 day trip

    • flights in the late morning rather than post night game

    • eliminate naps on flights heading east

    Sure nutrition is important, but often over emphasized because sleep requires the hardest commitment of all; your time. How much time are you willing to sacrifice for more sleep?

    Studies link fatigue and sleep to MLB performance and career longevity

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