Sleep is the best ally of good performance

Many of the world's greatest athletes tend to plan every single activity of their day in order to improve their sports performance. They are attentive to everything, to every aspect that could affect their performance on and off the pitch: nutrition, hydration, clothing, training and recovery time, stress and relaxation. These are undoubtedly fundamental things and yet, according to various studies, the element that can affect athletic performance most of all is: sleep.

The link between sport and sleep

In an article published in February by the British edition of Huffpost, Professor Mark Rosekind, one of the world's leading experts on sleep problems who also collaborated with NASA, spoke about his experience with the American National Olympic team, for which he developed several methods to help athletes to sleep and rest at their best. According to sportsmen and experts, his advice has been valuable several times and has often made the difference between a gold medal and a bronze one. On the other hand, today's races are won for a fraction of a second: is it really a matter of sleep?
The methods used by Professor Rosekind to help athletes achieve better performance were both intuitive and effective. To begin with, he had dark tents installed in the rooms of the pre-Olympic American training ground, alarms that simulated dawn and machines that produce "white noises", thus favouring a more delicate and less traumatic awakening.

Then, the professor drew up personalized "lists of tasks to do before going to bed" for each athlete, with the aim of guiding the athletes on a path of relaxation, to lead them to a peaceful sleep even in the most complicated conditions, such as jet leg or heavy stress. What is striking is the simplicity of the tasks assigned by Rosekind: "take a hot bath", "put your pyjamas on", "read a book" or other rules such as a ban on caffeine or the practice of heavy exercises a few hours before bedtime.

What are the effects of sleep on body and body?

Research conducted in 1983 and published in the book "Effects of partial sleep loss on subjective states, psychomotor and physical performance tests" showed that even a single sleepless night, or limited sleep, can lead to a decrease in capacities and psychomotor functions, while leaving muscle strength, pulmonary power and endurance travel unchanged. Subsequent studies have shown that there has been a real slowdown in the effects and a fall in the "maximum" benefits and above all in the "sub-ceilings" on the flat bench and on the leg press.
But the biological functions affected by lack of sleep are also many others: in cases of reduced sleep for prolonged periods, there have been changes in glucose metabolism and neuroendocrine function or alterations in carbohydrate metabolism, appetite, food intake and protein synthesis. All factors that can adversely affect a person's nutritional, metabolic and endocrine status by potentially reducing athletic performance and causing weight gain or loss of muscle mass.

How much do you have to sleep to have a good performance?

According to a 2005 Gallup survey in the United States, one healthy adult sleeps about 6.8 hours on weekdays and 7.4 hours at weekends. This is an average sleep time that is considered sufficient for an adult who leads a regular life, but is not sufficient for professional athletes.

Subsequent studies have shown that the average sleep time for athletes is between 7.53 and 9.29 hours depending on the discipline practiced and a wide variety of factors. However, it was noted that the quality of sleep affects much more than the quantity: the best performing athletes, both in training and in competition, were found to be those who had a lower sleep latency (those who take less time to fall asleep) and had a higher efficiency of sleep (a better sleep).

Sleeping a lot, then, is not enough: it is important to sleep well. And achieving this goal, after all, is not difficult: as Professor Rosekind has demonstrated, it is enough to take a few small steps to immediately achieve a significant improvement in sporting and working performance.

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