By Lisa Thomas
One aspect of a healthy lifestyle that often gets overlooked and undervalued is sleep. But a healthy lifestyle involves a dedication to sleep as much as it does to your exercise program and food choices. Clean eating is not enough to nourish your body. If you want to be stronger and faster, have more coordination and an improved recovery time then you need to start making sleep an important part of what you do.
Novak Djokovic is well known to be very in tune with his body, including what he eats, how he exercises and how he treats his recovery time. He is adamant about getting plenty of sleep. According to huffingtonpost.com, Djokovic revealed in his book, “Serve to Win,” that he aims to go to bed between 11 p.m. and midnight and wakes at 7 a.m. He suggests he is serious about his sleep and treats it with as much respect as he treats food, his training schedule or his rivals. It is that important.
Easier said than done, especially as we move into the notoriously busy holiday season. Most of us acknowledge that good sleep makes us feel better. We are less groggy, tend to have more energy, are less likely to snap at people and in general are able to function better.
The Wall Street Journal quoted a study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience that showed that cognitive performance increased as people got more sleep, reaching a peak at seven hours before starting to decline.
Can you commit to seven hours each night? It seems that most people don’t quite make it. A National Sleep Foundation poll conducted in 2013 suggested that most people sleep 6 hours, 31 minutes on an average weekday, and a healthier 7 hours, 22 minutes on weekends.
I am writing this on way less than the recommended 7 hours and am feeling the effects of it. But how about when I hit the court later today? Does sleep help us to perform as athletes too? We are supposed to spend 30% of our lives sleeping. It is the time when all of the benefits of our time spent in the gym, on the court and from our healthy diets start to be realized.
Sleep is critical for two essential hormones that stimulate cell production and cell regeneration. Well-rested athletes have been shown to be faster, have higher endurance for longer workouts and can lift heavier weights. Coordination also increases with a good night’s sleep. Players of basketball, tennis and baseball have all shown to score more points when fueled by higher levels of sleep.
Olympians and professional athletes know too well the value of sleep, making it a calculated part of the training and recovery.
Alpine ski-racer Travis Ganong prioritizes sleep, understanding the impact it can have on his training and race results.
“Feeling rested and ready is so important, not just physically but mentally. As a ski racer, we face so many variables, be it wind, fog, snow conditions or deteriorating snow surface, and sleep is a variable that you can control as an athlete. Also, during big competitions there are usually crowds there to support me, but they are also there to party and listen to loud music late into the night. I’ve learned to minimize this problem by always sleeping with ear-plugs.”
Beach volleyball legend, Phil Dalhausser suggests that when he sleeps well his mind is sharp and it’s easy to focus. On a bad night’s sleep his brain feels foggy and he has a tough time focusing. Sleep for him is very important for muscle recovery and if he is not sleeping well he definitely feels more sore the next day.
We know tennis to be not just a physical game and a mental game it is also a game of accuracy. In addition to practice and talent, a study published in the journal of Physiology and Behavior points also to the need for more sleep to increase accuracy. When college tennis players logged two extra hours of sleep a night, public health researchers at the University of Washington and Yale found that the players served with more accuracy.
This is all very nice but it is a tough time of year to get the sleep we need and hoping for seven plus hours a night feels like a stretch. Yet at the same time we expect to keep up with end of year work demands and a full calendar of social and family events. We also think we will play tennis like we always do and get frustrated when we show up poorly on the court. All of these things are managed better and have more productive outcomes when we can squeeze a few more Z’s out of each night. If you are good at thinking about your food intake, are keeping to a healthy exercise regime and staying on top of the stresses of work then why not be as purposeful around sleep. Be like Djokovic and treat sleep with as much respect as you do everything else in your healthy lifestyle. And who knows you may find you have an advantage on the court over those who sleep less this holiday season.