People who exercise on a regular basis are usually aware of the benefits exercise has on your ability to quickly fall asleep and sleep soundly throughout the night. Whether it be the pleasant soreness from a recent workout that you feel as you crawl into bed or simply the sensation of knowing you will fall asleep within minutes, exercisers know first hand how big of a role exercise plays in a good nights sleep.
Schedules, however, can impact your ability to get quality sleep. And most who have maintained a consistent exercise routine know all too well the impact poor sleep can have on their athletic performance. The random sleepless night shouldn’t cause any significant impact on you, however if you feel yourself stagnating or dreading your workout routine it’s probably a good idea to take a look at whether lack of sleep may be the culprit.
Exercise and Sleep: One Poor Nights Sleep is No Concern
One night of awful sleep is often the concern of someone who cannot sleep the night before a big competition. It is most common among marathoners, who have trained for months on end and will have all of their training culminate in a single race. Add in the fact most marathons start early in the morning, so you get to once again experience the recurring fear of sleeping through an alarm and missing the race.
Assuming you have a reliable method for making it to the starting line on time, poor sleep the night before is of no concern. A recent Dutch study indicated we will see absolutely no drop off in performance. Here is how the report was summarized by Scott Douglas of the Running Times:
In the “normal” time trial, when the men had enjoyed a regular night’s sleep, they covered an average of 7.68 kilometers, or a little less than 5 miles, during their 20-minute cycling time trial.
When riding after not sleeping, the men performed almost the same: they covered an average of 7.62 kilometers, and physiological measurements, including average heart rate, were also nearly identical.
As far as anecdotal evidence is concerned, personal trainer Eric Cressey, who trains professional athletes, agrees with this assessment:
I could always “get away with” one night of sleep deprivation and then still demonstrate “normal” strength the next day. If I missed out on sleep two nights in a row, though, my in-the-gym performance went down the tubes after the second night.
Exercise and Sleep: How Much Sleep Do You Need?
If your exercise performance has plateaued and you either feel “stale” or dread going for a workout, it’s worthwhile to review your sleep routine. Generally speaking, most people do best with anywhere from 7-9 hours sleep. Get less and you will likely experience a whole host of negative physiological factors which Eric Cressey outlined in his article on sleep:
- Sleep deprivation reduces insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance.
- Sleep deprivation is associated with reduced testosterone.
- Sleep deprivation…increases overall exposure to cortisol over a full day.
The good news is all of these normalize pretty quickly once you begin to get adequate amounts of sleep so your body can cycle through the sleep cycles and repair itself.
Other considerations are how old are you and how often do you exercise? Here are some general guidelines on what should work best for your particular situation. These may not work for you but they are general guidelines that are worth considering.
Sleep and the Young Athlete
Collegiate Baseball interviewed Dr. James Maas who has studied sleep and athletic performance extensively and consults with professional teams such as New York Jets, the Ottawa Senators and the Orlando Magic. Here is what he said is the optimal amount of sleep that is generally needed for younger athletes:
Sleep needs go up from puberty to about the age of 26. The amount of sleep this group of people needs to be fully alert and full of energy is 9 ¼ hours of sleep per night.
Sleep and the Older Athlete
The website Canadian Sport For Life has a good overview of the sleep needs based on age and they are in line with what Dr. Maas recommends for younger athletes. For older athletes the recommendation is 7-9 hours sleep and one 30 minute nap. Napping can be tough for people who work 9-5 in an office so if that’s the case with you it might be best to try to meet all of your sleep needs at night. If you work from home then making part of your lunch time into a nap is worth consideration. A sleep mask can help block out the daylight so you can get in your nap while there’s still daylight.
These suggestions are geared towards helping you get back into your workout routine so you can get all of the benefits of good health, which obviously includes restful, restorative sleep. If you get plenty of sleep and are still struggling with your workout routine you can discuss this with your physician or consult with a personal trainer or coach to see if you need to vary your routine or diet.