The Football Educator’s contributing writer Christine J. Jones (Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine) offers up some sound advice for football players (both rookies & vets) as NFL Training Camps begin to open this week. One of the keys to making an NFL roster is consistency of performance which is often hampered by the aches and pains of the grind two-a-day practices across professional football. These same ailments will strike out at both collegiate and high school players as they prepare this summer for a long Fall season of football.
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Sleep It Off – (How To) Get The Most Out of Training
By Christine J Jones – CNSM Athletic Consulting
It is not a secret that intense athletic training is often synonymous with pain. There is an assortment of miseries to choose from: muscle cramps and soreness, joint pain, headache, fatigue, scrapes, and bruises. Most of these are unavoidable and the accepted cost of athletic performance improvement. Thankfully there is an extensive consumer market aimed at lessening the effects of these painful bothers. Both professional and non-professional athletes alike are familiar with the popular remedies including ice packs, heat wraps, muscle rubs, and over the counter pain medications. Athletes can easily compile a solution custom to their needs.
There is one universal ache and pain remedy that may not be getting enough consideration by athletes: sleep. It does not have marketed availability at your local pharmacy and thus often does not come to mind when considering a fix for muscle soreness, but sleep is crucial to physical recovery. Certain stages of sleep have a direct healing relationship with muscle rehabilitation. During slow wave sleep more oxygen and nutrients are delivered to the muscles, facilitating growth through cell regeneration. During this time, growth hormones are released and the body heals itself.
On the other hand, sleep loss decreases the amount of time that the body sets aside to recover which leads to an athlete’s worst nightmare: muscle atrophy. Alarmingly, muscle loss may even be accelerated when intense exercise is paired with chronic sleep deprivation. Intense exercise causes micro-tears in the muscle tissue that are typically repaired during sleep. These stimulated areas are the sites of growth during a course of healthy physical training. When intense physical training is paired with decreased nightly sleep, the body has more muscle to repair and less time to do so. This can lead an otherwise healthy athlete to struggle to see “gains” from training.
If this is not a compelling enough of a reason to put sleep on the to do list, here are a few more reasons.
- Sleep deprivation has been shown in multiple studies to lower physical pain tolerance. For an athlete, that means losing just a few hours of sleep during the night proceeding a training day will increase the amount of pain experienced during training. The aches and pains will feel more intense than they would have if they occurred on days following well-rested nights.
- The mental effects of sleep loss often compound these physical problems. These mental effects include decreased concentration, mood irregularity, fatigue, and reaction impairment. The athlete deemed “off his game today” might simply be suffering from sleep loss. An innocuous single night of sleep loss can become much less benign when the impaired athlete then suffers an injury.
- Furthering the bad news for sleepy athletes, studies have also shown that the effects of certain painkillers are blunted after sleep deprivation. So reaching for pain pills may not be the most effective solution. Many professional teams now have a sleep physician working with athletes to help find the optimal sleep they need to avoid these effects and get the most out of their training.
Extending sleep duration should be the first line of defense during training days. Be prepared to give your body more sleep during especially intense training periods to help speed the recovery process. This principle also applies for injuries. While muscle rubs and ice packs are helpful, when they are used in conjunction with extended sleep, an optimal recovery cocktail is created. More sleep can save athletes from avoidable injuries, additional pain sensory during training, and decreased muscle recovery time. Make no mistake: research is out there that shows successful athletes sleep more.
Christine J Jones
(2013-present) Research Staff
Graduate of James Madison University with degrees in Psychology and Health Science. Her previous research experience focused on sport psychology, performance as a function of sleep, and circadian rhythms. She is currently training as a polysomnographic technologist and has interests in nutrition and sleep hygiene education.