Is It Bedtime Yet?
Why Is Sleep So Important?
Sleep is an indispensable function and a centrepiece of our circadian rhythms, allowing our minds and bodies to recharge, helping us wake up feeling refreshed, with the needed energy for the day. Adequate sleep helps the body remain healthy. It is needed so that our brains can function properly (e.g., to concentrate, think clearly, and process memories). Likewise, it fuels organ systems regeneration and healthy physical functions (e.g., our immune systems and overall energy levels are directly impacted by the quality of our sleep).
What Is a Circadian Rhythm?
The circadian rhythm refers to our internal “clock” around which the body’s vital functions and processes are being carried out. One of the best known is the “sleep-wake cycle”, which dictates our natural sleeping patterns, inducing feelings of tiredness, sleepiness, or alertness and refreshment. This cycle lasts 24 hours and induces changes in our bodies according to the time of the day we’re in. Therefore, we become gradually more tired towards the end of the day.
Various body systems follow circadian rhythms that are synchronised with our internal clock. This clock is directly influenced by environmental factors, like light, hence why circadian rhythms are guided by the day-night cycle.
If balanced, a circadian rhythm can aid with adequate, restorative sleep. Accordingly, when unbalanced it can induce sleeping problems, including insomnia. Studies also prove that circadian rhythms are key elements in the well-functioning of our mental and physical health.
Link Between Sleeping Patterns and Athletic Performance
Athletes, especially young, student athletes, need adequate sleeping patterns, alongside physical activity and nutrition, in order to stay safe, healthy, and further perform at optimal levels. Contrastingly, according to Sleep Foundation, “it comes as no surprise that at least 42% of student athletes regularly report getting poor sleep, with three in five student athletes clocking less than seven hours a night”.
Risks of Inadequate Rest and Sleep Deprivation
Physical Injuries — A study by University of California reveals that injury rates in young athletes increased during games that followed a night of fewer than six hours of sleep, while less than eight hours increases the chance of injury by 170%.
Sleeping Problems — As mentioned above, sleep deprivation can worsen or even induce new sleeping problems, such as insomnia, sleep apnoea, or sleep paralysis.
Mental Health Decay — Besides reducing our ability to think, focus, and recall memories, not getting enough sleep also affects the symptoms of most mental conditions, including depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.
Reduced Organ Activity — Prolonged poor sleeping patterns have been proven to negatively impact digestion, and are linked to serious health issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure, stroke, obesity, as well as reduced immune system function.
Tips for Getting the Sleep We Need
Following a Consistent Schedule — While a typical adult is suggested to have seven to eight hours of sleep per night, student athletes are suggested at least nine to eleven hours, so as to recover properly. Trying to go to sleep and wake up around the same time on most days is also ideal.
Limiting Caffeine Intake — As pointed out in a previous article — Feeling Tired Lately? — daily, excessive caffeine consumption may induce insomnia throughout time, and on a general note, consumption after 4 p.m. tends to decrease sleep quality, within all age groups.
Healthy Pre-Bedtime Habits — Activities like meditating, breathing exercises, warm showers, and some light stretching before bed can help us rest well and feel more relaxed, energetic, and positive during the upcoming day.
Working Out Times — As beneficial as it can be during daytime, exercising, particularly at medium to high intensity, is to be avoided before bedtime. The reason is that it spikes our energy levels, increasing the body’s levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which further disrupt healthy sleep.
Avoiding Electrical Screens — Since light is one of the main factors that influences the circadian rhythm, electrical screens, especially those emitting blue light, can trick our minds and disturb our natural cycle. Additionally, complete darkness is associated with better sleep, as it allows the secretion of melatonin, a vital sleep hormone with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Eating Times — Eating or drinking before bedtime, especially heavy meals, alcohol, sugary foods & drinks, or even just water in large amounts, worsens sleep quality as the digestive system and kidneys will be put under additional stress to carry out the new tasks they’ve been given, at lower capacity, instead of resting.
Power Naps — Getting the necessary number of sleep hours consistently is essential. Therefore, a 20 min power nap can be of value when there is an occasional interruption from the normal schedule of sleep.
Cleveland Clinic (2022) Here’s What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep [online] available from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/happens-body-dont-get-enough-sleep/amp/
Sleep Foundation (2022) Circadian Rhythm [online] available from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/circadian-rhythm
Sleep Foundation (2022) Why Do We Need Sleep? [online] available from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/why-do-we-need-sleep
Sunbears (2021) Feeling Tired Lately? [online] available from https://sunbearsblog.medium.com/feeling-tired-lately-de9fcf09a9d1
Verywell Mind (2020) How Does Sleep Affect Mental Health? [online] available from https://www.verywellmind.com/how-sleep-affects-mental-health-4783067