No matter their sport, athletes are constantly looking for an edge. To shave a second or two here or there. To jump a millimeter higher. And they’ll do anything to achieve their goals: try new supplements, hire expensive trainers with avant-garde workout method, you name it.
Most athletes, though, overlook a fundamental thing that costs nothing and can improve performance far faster, and far more effectively than any newfangled diets and training methods:
It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? The body needs energy move. It follows then that running faster and longer requires more energy. And a good night’s sleep can do wonders for our energy levels. Several recent studies have examined the effect of sleep patterns on the performance of athletes in various sports. The overwhelming majority of evidence shows that consistent, plentiful sleep has a positive effect on things like coordination, motor skills, reaction time, form, and speed.
So, as you look for ways to gain an edge and increase your speed, take a look at these six ways you can improve your sleep patterns and wake up stronger, faster, and speedier in the morning.
SIX WAYS TO MAXIMIZE SLEEP SO YOU CAN BE FASTER
- Be regular. It’s important to be as consistent as you can be with your sleep patterns. Erratic sleep schedules can disrupt the natural biorhythm and detract from the benefits inherent to quality sleep. Although seven hours a night isn’t necessarily ideal, getting those seven hours seven days a week for seven months straight can be far more beneficial than getting a couple hours here and there, then trying to play catch-up on the weekends.
- Do it natural. In most cases, a nutritious diet, a regular exercise routine, and healthy habits encourage regular, quality sleep and eliminate the need for sleep aids. Out of the box, our bodies are designed to do it without the help of chemicals, pills, and supplements. Which brings us to number 3:
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. All three of these substances have been proven to disrupt sleep or even degrade the quality of sleep one gets with these substances running through their blood. Reducing or eliminating alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine—especially close to bedtime—can work wonders.
- Minimize stress. This should be easier to do if you are on a regular training regimen, since exercise is known to help regulate and even lower stress levels. Still, stress wouldn’t be stress if it didn’t come out of nowhere to knock us on our rear ends. Finding ways to minimize stress can make a huge impact on your sleep patterns and, thus, your speed.
- Put the phone down. More and more research is emerging that suggests too much screen time can disrupt sleep, or distract us from getting to sleep altogether. So, here’s a simple solution: keep your phone, tablet, or computer out of the bedroom when you go to sleep. Problem solved!
- Nap! Cat nap. Power nap. Whatever you want to call it, a short nap during the day can do wonders. Once the fog clears, you’ll feel refreshed and energized. We promise.
SO, HOW MUCH SLEEP IS ENOUGH SLEEP?
If sleep is necessary to improve speed, then how much sleep is enough sleep?
The answer is: it depends.
Common wisdom says that the average person needs a solid seven or eight hours to be in the healthy range. For an athlete trying to maximize performance during training or competition, working in an hour or two more can make a world of difference when it comes to energy levels, mood, recovery, and speed. Just as an athlete requires more caloric intake to support increased output levels, so, too, does an athlete require more sleep to support the same activities. And when it comes to running, a marathon runner will likely need more sleep than the casual jogger.
Because while you’re dreaming of podiums, gold medallions, and photo ops, the body is hard at work recovering from all the training time you put in earlier that day. Simple as that. And no matter what your level of training, failing to get enough sleep adds up. It’s called sleep debt. If you spend a week getting only five hours of sleep a night, it’s important to get those hours back as soon as possible, because sleep deprivation can have a cumulative effect.
Of course, you might not sleep at all the night before the big race and go out to set a personal record. It happens. But that shouldn’t discount the value of regular sleep. In fact, that record time is likely the result of the healthy and consistent sleep regimen that preceded that one bad night.
Does sleep affect speed? Absolutely. But getting good sleep isn’t the only way to improve speed.
Have you examined your gait lately?