What's the Connection?: Sleep, Athletic Performance & Recovery

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What's the Connection?: Sleep, Athletic Performance & Recovery
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By Lofta
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Article Summary:
Studies show a strong positive relationship between sleep and athletic performance that includes sports-specific strength, skill execution, and anaerobic (producing energy without oxygen) power.

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December 29, 2022

Written by Casey Bloom

Sleep is a period of rest essential to humans, whether healthy or with a medical condition. Sleep helps our body’s energy balance, alertness, mood, and intellectual function. But people sometimes experience sleep problems, which affect sleep quality.

In the United States, a third of adults get less sleep than the recommended amount. At this rate, there’s a high probability that even athletes and people with medical conditions suffer from poor sleep quality.

Sleep disorders can also happen more frequently among those diagnosed with diseases like cancer, including mesothelioma and its stages. Fortunately, there are strategies to help you sleep better, even when you’re diagnosed with an illness.

If you’re an athlete needing sleep quality improvement, you might be wondering how sleep quality could affect your performance and recovery.

Why is sleep especially important to athletes and people with illnesses like cancer? How can sleep quality impact one’s health condition?

This article explains how sleep quality can benefit athletic performance and recovery. This article also discusses the importance of sleep, especially among people with illnesses.

How Sleep Quality Affects an Athlete’s Performance and Recovery

         Researchers define sleep quality as the satisfaction of an individual with their sleep experience. Sleep latency, sleep efficiency, sleep duration, and wake after sleep onset (WASO) are the attributes of sleep quality.

Sleep latency is a measure of the time it takes for you to fall asleep after you go to bed and turn off the lights. Sleep efficiency is TST:TIB, or the ratio of your total sleep time to time in bed.

On the other hand, WASO measures the total number of minutes that you’re awake after you’ve fallen asleep initially. Lastly, sleep duration measures how long you’ve slept.

Studies show a strong positive relationship between sleep and athletic performance that includes sports-specific strength, skill execution, and anaerobic (producing energy without oxygen) power.

But athletes are often susceptible to inadequate sleep, characterized by frequent short sleep of fewer than seven hours a night and poor sleep quality.

When you go without sleep for a night or more, your performance is reduced. And if you have the habit of sleeping less than seven hours per night, you may be at a higher risk for respiratory infection.

Lack of sleep also has detrimental effects on your physical and mental performance. The most prevalent psychological effects of sleep loss include cognitive impairment, altered mood states, and impaired decision-making skills.

Thus, athletes must have approximately eight hours of sleep each night to help prevent neurobehavioral deficiencies associated with sleep loss.

Sleep is also essential for your body’s recovery and health to help rejuvenate and replenish your body’s physiological and psychological functions.

Researchers say that sleep may facilitate the recovery of the physiological, psychological, musculoskeletal, immune, metabolic, and endocrine systems. These functions help an athlete successfully adapt to training stress.

Too much stress can cause maladaptation (failure to adjust adequately), including sleep disruption associated with performance loss, negative mood changes, and even injury or illness.

Adjusting to and managing stress may help improve athletic performance.

The Importance of Sleep on People, Including Those With Illnesses

One animal study suggests that when one sleeps, the body’s drainage system removes from the brain the toxins associated with Alzheimer’s disease twice as fast. Researchers also say that your body uses sleep as the time to repair itself.

Although the animal study results don’t show similar outcomes in humans, researchers can use the findings as a reference for clinical trials on the effects of sleep in people with diseases.

When you don’t get enough regular quality sleep, you increase your risk of getting sick. These diseases and disorders include heart disease, obesity, stroke, and dementia.

Cancer patients are also susceptible to sleep problems. A few takeaways about sleep disorders in cancer patients include the following:

  • Sleep problems are prevalent in people with cancer
  • Learning about the cancer diagnosis can cause stress, leading to sleeping problems
  • Tumors can make it difficult to sleep due to itching, pain, coughing, constipation, nausea, or bladder problems
  • Some drugs and treatments can affect sleep
  • Staying in the hospital can make it difficult to sleep
  • Other non-cancer conditions can cause sleep problems

To help manage or treat sleep disorders, people with or without illnesses can consider the following options:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help you relax and reduce anxiety
  • Supportive care for cancer side effects or treatment to help manage sleep disorders
  • Sleep medicines as a short-term remedy to help with sleep problems if treatment without drugs doesn’t help
  • Learning proper sleeping habits like eating a proper diet, exercising, and maintaining a comfortable bed to help you fall asleep quickly and stay asleep

And talking about a comfortable bed, consider getting a weighted blanket to help improve your sleep quality. Weighted blankets use pressure stimulation that helps relax your nervous system, giving you a feeling of calm and peace.

To know more about improving sleep quality, whether you’re an active athlete or someone with an illness, consult a doctor or consider taking an at-home sleep study to diagnose sleep apnea.