Does a miracle supplement exist? In your dreams…
Imagine if someone offered you a new state-of-the-art supplement that was proven to enhance performance, improve recovery, reduce your risk of injury, boost your mood and supercharge your immune system . Now imagine if it was free, legal, easily accessible and literally required no exertion on your part – you’d be chomping at the bit to get your hands on it, right? Well strangely enough, you (hopefully) already get your dose in every single day. This all-powerful substance is in fact sleep. We have touched upon it briefly, but this one factor is so imperative to both recovery and performance that it 100% deserves its very own blog. Let’s take a look at why sleep is so good for us…
It is recommended by the ASA (American Sleep Association), that adults should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep every night. This time allows for several processes to occur which enable our bodies to reset, recover and adapt to whatever stressors we have exposed it to throughout the day.
While we sleep, our immune system releases small proteins called cytokines which aid our body in fighting inflammation and therefore assist in the repair of damaged muscles and the attenuation of soreness following exercise . Another key factor released during sleep is HGH or Human Growth Hormone. HGH is secreted from the pituitary gland and stimulates the growth of skeletal muscle and bone tissue, regulates our metabolism and maintains levels of bodily fluids. It is estimated that as much as 75% of all natural HGH is released when we sleep, emphasising the importance of getting your shut-eye . Both of these substances will contribute to effective post-exercise recovery and subsequently enable you to function more effectively the following day – but only with sufficient sleep!
As well as physical adaptation and recovery, sleep also offers a platform for psychological processes to occur. One such process is called “consolidation” and refers to the reinforcement of any learning which has taken place that day – say learning a new exercise or sport for example . Researchers have used brain imaging to ascertain why this consolidation occurs and have attributed the process to events known as “sleep spindles” which occur during light sleep. They are huge bursts of brain activity which are purported to augment the development of specific pathways in the brain which are relevant to recently learned or practised processes . One particular study also found that the ability to perform a memory task the day after learning it is directly proportional to how many sleep spindles were recorded overnight! 
It makes sense then that some of the world’s best athletes have incredible sleeping habits; LeBron James and Roger Federer clock up 12 hours on an average night whilst Serena Williams is asleep for 10 hours of every day. The ultra-successful Team Sky cycling team prioritise sleep-health so highly that they transport the cyclists’ mattresses from home around during the Tour de France to minimise sleep disturbances. Not only this but they also employ a “sleep coach” to provide individual sleep consultations to athletes to ensure they are getting the most from their shut-eye.
To conclude, considering that sleep is something that we all have access to, we should seek to prioritise it when considering how best to improve our training, recovery and performance. The benefits of sleep are well-documented, and it is clear to see why elite athletes value their shut-eye so much. In the next blog post, we will explore what happens when we don’t get enough sleep and the factors that we can control to minimise those impacts.
- Godfrey, R. J., Madgwick, Z., & Whyte, G. (2003). The exercise-induced growth hormone response in athletes. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 33, 599-613. doi:10.2165/00007256-200333080-00005
- Krueger, J. M., Rector, D. M., & Churchill, L. (2007). Sleep and cytokines. Sleep Medicine Clinics, 2(2), 161-169. doi:10.1016/j.jsmc.2007.03.003
- Laventure, S., Fogel, S., Lungu, O., Albouy, G., SÃ©vigny-Dupont, P., Vien, C., . . . Doyon, J. (2016). NREM2 and sleep spindles are instrumental to the consolidation of motor sequence memories. PLoS Biology, 14(3), e1002429-e1002429. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002429
- Marshall, G. J. G., & Turner, A. N. (2016). The importance of sleep for athletic performance. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 38(1)
- Schabus, M., Gruber, G., Parapatics, S., Sauter, C., Klosch, G., Anderer, P., . . . Zeitlhofer, J. (2004). Sleep spindles and their significance for declarative memory consolidation. Sleep, 27(8), 1479-1485. doi:10.1093/sleep/27.7.1479
- Wei, Y., Krishnan, G. P., & Bazhenov, M. (2016). Synaptic mechanisms of memory consolidation during sleep slow oscillations. The Journal of Neuroscience, 36(15), 4231. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3648-15.2016