Sleep Loss And Triathlete’s Performance

Race week is finally here. The hay has been stored in the barn, your exercises are not as strenuous, and an enjoyable day of recreational activity awaits you on the track.

Your diet is satisfactory, all components are set, and you are now set to rest well before the commencement of the event. If only it were that simple…

Sleep disturbances are common during race week. We are aware that rest is essential for optimum performance, so when it escapes us throughout the most significant week, we usually panic, which only worsens the situation.

Rather than being unaware of it, let’s grasp the real association between incapacity and deficiency of rest, the multifaceted justifications for why sleeplessness transpires, and techniques on how to enhance your potential for having a handful of sturdy sleep nights.

How Is Sleep Different For Athletes

Studies suggest that athletes who get more rest or longer periods of sleep can take advantage of improved recovery and enhanced athletic performance. It is suggested that athletes get between seven and nine hours of sleep every night.

Elite athletes should prioritize getting at least nine hours of sleep every night just like they prioritize training and nutrition. Individuals who exercise in moderation may not require as much sleep as top athletes. Standard sleep guidelines are appropriate.

It is not suggested for certain individuals who have difficulty sleeping, such as people with insomnia, to nap after a night in which they did not get enough rest. Athletes who predict that they won’t get enough sleep can gain from increasing the amount of shut-eye they get.

For certain types of athletes, it can be detrimental to get up early rather than stay up late. A research conducted on judo players demonstrated that having a lack of sleep towards the later hours (e.g. pre-dawn) decreased strength.

The National Centre for Biotechnology Information is working to enhance science and wellness by allowing access to information related to biomedicine and genetics.

If your performance is being harmed by having to wake up early, it may be beneficial for you to talk to your coach so you can come up with a plan for training and competing that works best for you.

How Sleep Helps an Athlete’s Mental State

Sleep helps everyone to retain and consolidate memories. When athletes put in the work to practice or acquire new talents, getting enough sleep is essential in order to create memories and consequently better their performance in the future. If you don’t get an adequate amount of sleep, your brain won’t be able to create or keep the neural pathways necessary to acquire and process knowledge.

Sleep is also essential for cognitive processing. Sleeping difficulties are linked to a decreased ability to think. This may have a detrimental outcome on athletes whose games necessitate a great deal of mental capacity, such as being able to make decisions quickly and adjusting to new surroundings.

Exercising can help look after a person’s psychological wellbeing, and likewise, sufficient sleep is vital for maintaining an athlete’s mental health. Quality sleep is associated with improving overall mood. Getting a good night’s rest helps ward off grumpiness and reduces the chances of conditions like depression occurring.

Stages of Sleep for Athletes

Different activities and processes take place throughout the different stages of sleep, and all are needed for sound and healthy sleep. Is there a stage of the sleep cycle that provides a beneficial outcome specifically for athletes?

The findings of an examination of chess players from Norway point to this. The chess rankings of some of the examined players increased, whereas others reduced and the sleep habits of these two groups were different.

Players who had improved had fewer episodes of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, more extended sessions of deep sleep, and steadier breathing rates.

Sleep Loss the Night Before The Race and Performance

There are multiple kinds of sleep deprivation that probably all of us have gone through. Not getting any rest for a total of 24 hours is the most severe type of not getting enough sleep.

Getting fewer than 6 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period is known as sleep deprivation.

This issue can be broken down into three distinct areas: 1) sleeping too late or beginning sleep later than usual, either because of some difficulty or a disagreement; 2) waking up several times during the night, and; 3) waking up very early.

Many triathletes typically wake up early on race day in order to make it to the event. However, anxiety or transportation often leads to early limitations as well.

What is the impact of these types of sleep deprivation on athletic ability?

Studies have demonstrated that going without sleep and having limited sleep late at night are especially harmful varieties of not getting enough sleep, which hurts a variety of abilities and capacities: explosive force, skill, strength, and stamina. All forms of sleep deprivation have an adverse effect on endurance performance.

Bummer! Additionally, following a sleepless night, the results when engaging in certain kinds of physical activity are even poorer in the afternoon than during the morning hours.

Regrettably, tasks that require long-term effort are equally impacted whether it is morning or night when there has been a night of very bad sleep.

It appears the worst effects from lack of sleep are observed when one does not get any sleep within 24 hours or a total of four hours over two days. That’s extreme.

Even if you only get 4.5 hours of sleep the night before the race, you probably won’t notice it in your physical performance, just how hard it feels.

Moreover, there are some strategies that have been confirmed to increase your probability of getting a decent night’s sleep, in particular for the duration of the competition the week. If you cannot find any other solutions, then making efforts to concentrate more during the competition day could help counteract some of the negative impacts.

Barriers to Sleep During Race Week

After building up a good training program for an extended period, race week requires you to slow your pace as you condition your body and mind for the upcoming competition. A multitude of elements can interfere with sound sleep during the period before a competition.

Pre-race Anxiety

It is typical to be somewhat anxious before a race, but it can be awfully annoying when this anxiousness impedes your rest. The way to manage pre-race jitters is to provide a way for them to be released. Try taking a few minutes each night to journal.

Grab a pen and notebook and start writing down your thoughts. Don’t worry about editing or censoring yourself—write whatever comes to mind, and your brain will naturally process your worries.

These thoughts typically do not serve a purpose and are hindering progress. Memos may be indicative of the need to achieve particular objectives, which could assist in reducing nervousness.

Next, attack the anxious thoughts from the bottom up. Be aware of the way your body reacts to pressure and relax by meditating, bathing, or doing a comforting breathing exercise.

The most well-studied technique for insomnia is 4-7-8 breathing. Take a deep breath in for 4 seconds, pause for 7 seconds, then exhale for 8 seconds. Do this a few times for a few minutes to kickstart your parasympathetic nervous system and help your body relax and rest.

Moving Less

As race week approaches, your exercise hours tend to decrease, and you will likely spend noticeably fewer hours on training than you did when you were in the building and peaking stages

The decrease in the power and amount usually results in agitation, which can create a lot of difficulties in trying to fall asleep. An effective way to remain aware of your body while allowing it to rest is to do progressive muscle relaxation before going to sleep.

No predetermined pattern is necessary, just start with your toes and gradually tense and relax every big muscle group. An illustration of this would be while lying in bed, gradually tense up your left foot on a spectrum of low to medium to high levels of tightness, holding it for a few seconds, and then slowly letting go of the tenseness.

Repeat this with your right foot. Then, move up to your left calf. Proceed up your body until you reach your face, finishing with the muscles in your face. At the conclusion, contract your entire body, grip it for a few seconds, and then let go completely. This should help you drift to sleep.

Time Zone Changes

If you have taken part in activities which are located in a different time zone than your own, then you understand how hard it can be to get used to the difference in the time. Your body clock does not match up with the time at your location, causing jet lag.

It appears that it is more difficult to recuperate from jet lag when you go in an eastern direction than when going in a western direction.

The best way to combat jet lag is to be exposed to natural morning light and to avoid artificial evening light, since the suprachiasmatic nucleus (which is a collection of cells inside the hypothalamus) acts as your brain’s primary clock and reacts to sunlight.

Instead of covering up the windows in your hotel or Airbnb with blackout shades, set your alarm for the beginning of the day and get out of bed. Immediately go outside and be sure to get some natural daylight.

To avoid jet lag, it is important to drink plenty of fluids, restrict caffeine consumption to the morning hours, and abstain from alcohol while travelling and after arriving at your destination.

Sleeping In a New Place

Our bodies are accustomed to regular habits and enjoy having a set routine. When you change the way you usually do things, your brain might not be happy about it. It is not always easy to acclimate to sleeping in a new environment.

You may find yourself stirring a fair bit or may never experience the sensation of falling into a deep slumber. There’s a good reason for this. Researchers in the field of sleep studied the phenomenon of the “first-night-effect” and determined that it is a protective reflex.

The side of your brain that is less asleep is more sensitive to external forces that take place during the night such as noises and changes in temperature compared to the other half.

This is attempting to guard you against potentially dangerous elements in the unfamiliar environment, even if it is unlikely to be hazardous. Sadly, this is a product of evolution. Although you may not be able to bypass this engaging feature, you can aid your mind to feel secure.

Smells have a strong effect on the brain and are deeply connected to memories. Bring an aroma that you know well, for instance, the scent of your favourite candle or the soap you normally use. It is recommended that you maintain your usual bedtime ritual to create a feeling of security.

Stressing About not Sleeping

This one resonates deeply, doesn’t it? You are struggling to rest at two o’clock in the morning, the eve of your upcoming contest, and you are concerned that you will not get a decent amount of shut-eye. This undoubtedly makes the situation worse and the higher levels of cortisol and activity in the brain stop any potential of getting a good night’s sleep.

Instead of putting up resistance, accept it as normal. Resolve to let go of your stress by believing in your preparation. Even if you don’t get adequate sleep, you can still be successful.

Focus your mental energy on what you can manage rather than what isn’t working. Use the quiet time to practice mental imagery.

Think of beginning the competition with assurance, swimming undisturbedly, cycling with strength, and running happily and without difficulty. Assert that you can accomplish anything for a brief period.

Sleep Hygiene Tips for Athletes

Good sleep hygiene habits are essential for everyone to achieve restful sleep. Common components include:

  • Creating an appropriate sleep environment. Your sleeping space should be dark and cool with little to no noise. Your sleep environment should be used only for sex and sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine before bedtime. These beverages can interrupt sleep or lead to more disturbed sleep.
  • Stay away from electronics in the hours before bedtime. This includes TVs, cell phones, and computers. The blue light that these devices emit can affect your circadian rhythm.
  • Have a wind-down routine. Activities such as reading, taking a bath, or meditating can help you relax and get ready for sleep.
  • Get out of bed if you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes of trying. Do a quiet activity in another space until you feel sleepy.

In addition to these sleep hygiene tips, other habits especially important for athletes are to:

  • Avoid overtraining. Keep a consistent training schedule so as not to overexert yourself.
  • Avoid training and competitions too early or too late. These can affect sleep quantity and quality, especially if your athletic schedule is inconsistent.
  • Keep naps brief, if you take them at all. Naps should be no more than an hour and not taken after 3 p.m.
  • Reduce stressors. Not only do mental stressors affect sleep quality, but they also impact performance overall.

Jet Lag in Athletes

Athletes should be aware of the impacts of jet lag on their sleep quality. When athletes go to different locations with varying time zones for sports competitions, it can disrupt the circadian rhythm patterns they are used to.

Athletes may feel tired or be unable to play at their highest level as a result of this. An illustration of this is that West Coast American football teams show superior performance when they are playing at home in the evening compared to East Coast teams visiting.

To combat the negative effects of jet lag, athletes should consider additional sleep hygiene tips for travel:

  • Prepare for travel. Adjust your sleep schedule to mimic the time of the destination you’re travelling to quickly adjust to the time upon arrival. Set your watch for the destination time zone when you board the plane.
  • Get enough sleep before travelling. To avoid sleep debt upon arrival, be sure to sleep before and during travel, if necessary.
  • Make a comfortable environment. Pillows can be used for cushion and comfort. Earplugs and eye masks can help create a quiet, dark environment for sleep during a flight. Avoid distractions such as electronics.
  • Stay hydrated. On the aeroplane, be sure to take plenty of fluids. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Eat meals at the destination time. Arranging meal times according to your destination time zone can also shorten the time it takes to adjust to a new time zone.

Importance of Sleep For Athletes

It is imperative for everyone, athletes included, to get plenty of rest to be in good health and content. To feel rejuvenated and operate optimally the following day, everyone needs to get some rest. Other physical benefits include:

  • Allowing your heart to rest and cells and tissue to repair. This can help your body recover after physical exertion. Also, as you progress through the stages of sleep, the changes in your heart rate and breathing throughout the night promote cardiovascular health.
  • Preventing illness or helping you recover from illness. During sleep, your body produces cytokines, which are hormones that help the immune system fight off infections.


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