Sleep To Win
In this guest blog series we hear from experts Kevin Morgan and Luke Gupta – on the vital component of performance – Sleep!
If you missed the introductory blog then just click here
This blog kicks off the ‘Top 10 sleep principles’ focuses on training and sleep
Sleep to Win 2.
Evidence-based sleep management to support your performance and wellbeing
The jury is still out on whether, by extending sleep beyond its typical duration, performance can be reliably enhanced (so-called ‘sleep extension’ interventions). What is certain, however, is that inadequate sleep will undermine your efforts to maintain and improve your performance. Optimal sleep will support alertness, recovery, concentration and memory – and your confidence. But unlike your training programme, or a workout, or your dietary regime, sleep isn’t something you can just ‘do’. As mentioned in our first post, sleep doesn’t work like that because it isn’t under direct conscious control. But we can influence our sleep, and we can even train it!
Here are the first of our Top 10 principles for managing sleep during training periods, and in the run-up to competitions.
1. Recognise your own sleep need. Don’t base your personal sleep duration targets on the self-reported sleep quantities of other athletes (however successful they may be). Individual sleep needs differ, and you really don’t want to introduce unrealistic and unachievable goals into your personal routines. Rather, aim to sleep enough to minimise daytime fatigue and optimise the experience of restoration. This can vary by an hour or more per night among similarly aged healthy people.
2. Adjust your sleep to meet the demands of training. Regular early training start-times (for example those associated with swimming, rowing, and triathlon) can be associated with shorter sleep durations and, as a result, increased pre-training fatigue. If, during the training cycle, you sacrifice sleep in the morning, try to compensate either by going to bed earlier in the evening, or by taking naps.
Sleep To Win
3. Be a smart napper. Where schedules allow, napping can be an effective way to alleviate feelings of day-time sleepiness and fatigue, and improve day-time wellbeing and performance. Naps of less than 30 minutes, taken during the ‘nap zone’ between midday and 4pm are probably best (during this period the circadian rhythm naturally ‘dips’, with a temporary fall in core body temperature accompanied by a transient rise in sleepiness). But be careful. Longer nap times risk slipping into deeper sleep, with feelings of ‘grogginess’ when woken (a phenomenon called ‘sleep inertia’). And naps too close to bed-time can lead to a reduction in sleep pressure, and consequent problems falling asleep at night. Also keep in mind that naps don’t suite everyone; if your night-time sleep is sufficient, napping may be unnecessary.
4. Make your sleep competition fit. One way athletes can prepare for competition-related sleep disturbances is through minimising pre-competition sleep deprivation or “sleep banking”. It should be noted that it is physiologically impossible to literally ‘store’ or ‘bank, sleep. Nonetheless the concept usefully emphasises that minimising pre-competition sleep deprivation can dampen the effects of disturbed sleep. The evidence shows that athletes who go into a period of repeated sleep disruptions (through, say, multiple heats or ‘legs’) with a pre-existing sleep debt may underperform relative to those who have enjoyed more adequate pre-competition sleep.
Finally, and as a general rule, sleep is best protected by ‘regularity’ (don’t forget, our sleep evolved to harmonize with the rhythmic alternation of day and night). So wherever possible, adopt and maintain sleep routines. But we recognise that regular sleep routines are repeatedly challenged by the demands of elite sport. In the next post, we’ll consider sleep in the context of travelling.
In the next blog (coming soon) Kevin and Luke’s will be covering;
-Travelling and Sleep
-Competing and Sleep
Stay Tuned!
About the authors
Contact Kevin on
Luke GuptaLuke Gupta is a Physiologist with the English Institute of Sport, Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre, follow him @lukegup86
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About steveingham

Dr Steve Ingham is one of the UK’s leading figures in sport and one of the world’s leading performance scientists. He is steeped in high performance and has been integral to the development of Britain into an Olympic superpower. He has provided support to over 1000 athletes, of which over 200 have achieved World or Olympic medal success, including some of the world’s greatest athletes such as Jessica Ennis-Hill, Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent. Steve has coached Kelly Sotherton's running for heptathlon and to 4x400m Olympic medal winning success. Steve has worked at the English Sports Council British Olympic Association, English Institute of Sport, where Steve was the Director of Science and Technical Development, leading a team of 200 scientists in support of Team GB and Paralympics GB. Ingham holds a BSc, PhD and is a Fellow of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences. Steve is author of the best selling ‘How to Support a Champion: The art of applying science to the elite athlete’, discussing and inspiring the importance of learning and adapting to reach our maximum potential. Steve established Supporting Champions with the ambition of helping ambitious people to find a better way of creating high-performance. Steve hosts the Supporting Champions Podcast on sharing his pursuit of understanding and exploration in performance.

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