Sleep: the Third Essential Element

How much do you think about how well you sleep? How important do you think sleep is to your performance in CrossFit? What about your general health? If you’re like most people, you probably don’t think much about how well you sleep. Everyone knows they feel better when they sleep more, so you probably want to sleep well and are upset when you don’t sleep as much as you want to.

But good sleep is more than just quantity. Good quality sleep is one of the most important elements of health maintenance, as well as athletic performance and improvement.

Like the science of nutrition and exercise, sleep science has been undergoing a revolution over the last few decades. Researchers are beginning to understand how sleep impacts our performance over the short term and the long term. Just how much can sleep impact you as an athlete?

Consider this:

  • Researchers conducted a study of over 30 years of NFL game data and demonstrated that teams that traveled three time zones to play night games experienced disrupted sleep and exercise schedules, and were 67% more likely to lose even when the point spread was factored in.
  • Studies have shown that athletes who consistently get around 10 hours of sleep per night show marked improvement in strength, speed, agility, reaction time.
  • Athletes who get around 10 hours of sleep demonstrate better muscle memory for movements learned the day before.
  • People who don’t get enough sleep are more prone to diabetes, cancer, coronary heart disease, and various other health problems.
  • Researchers have shown that just a few days of little to no sleep impacts the body’s insulin sensitivity by over 25% in normal, healthy people. This essentially brings them to a pre-diabetic state – the equivalent of gaining 1830lbs
  • People who don’t sleep enough are often more irritable because the brain works differently when we are sleep deprived. A positive attitude is critical to athletic performance, both in individual and team sports, where success is as much mental as it is physical. An irritable athlete is usually not a positive athlete, and thus sleep deprivation can rob you of the mental edge necessary for success.

To see significant improvements in performance, we have to train right and eat right, but without sleep, all that hard work is wasted, and could even be harmful for a body that is so sleep deprived it can’t heal itself.

The good news is that, like nutrition has Paleo and exercise has CrossFit, there are ways for you to improve your sleeping habits and realize your maximum potential as an athlete.

Steps to getting more sleep and improving athletic performance:

  • Make a decision here and now that sleep is an integral part of your training and that you are going to take it as seriously as exercise and nutrition.
  • Block out at least 9 hours a day for sleep, and ideally 10 hours – you may not actually sleep that long, but that should be your goal. We often fall short of what we set out to do, so if you set out to do 9 you may only get 8, which is basically the minimum for an athlete. That said, everyone has their own unique sleep needs. If you determine that you need 9.5 hours a night to perform at a peak level then find that out. How do you know if you are sleeping enough? If you wake up feeling good consistently without an alarm clock that is a strong sign that you are near where you need to be in terms of sleep hours.
  • Get a Good Sleep System. You wouldn’t work out with poor equipment, would you? Well you shouldn’t sleep on a poor mattress, foundation, and pillow either. Look for a mattress with excellent air flow, natural materials, and the ability to customize the feel of the mattress. You should also try to sleep on an adjustable bed foundation that provides head and foot adjustability and massage (for more info see our tips for unlocking your athletic potential)

Make a commitment to better sleep just like you’ve made the commitment to working out hard and eating right – you’ll start to see the gains pretty fast, and you’ll be well on your way to maximizing your potential.