Study Reports High-Level Athletes have Disturbed Sleep! How to Get a Sound Night’s Sleep

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Study Reports High-Level Athletes have Disturbed Sleep! How to Get a Sound Night’s Sleep.

by: Robbie Durand

It is not uncommon during intense training to have disturbed sleep. It is well-documented that sleep has an impact on the next day’s physical performance. A professional athlete life is challenging with high levels of mental stress and intense physical demands, and therefore, the amount of rest and recovery should also meet these elevated needs. In athletes, a poor night’s sleep may impair performance, increase the risk of exercise-related injuries, impaired recovery, increased feelings of pain that them- selves predispose to sleep disturbances and delaying recovery from a sports-related injury.

The recovery provided by restorative sleep may be considered necessary for successful training and performance for athletes.  The latest study reported in the JOURNAL OF SPORTS SCIENCES reported that most athletes, although mostly found to be minor, had a sleep-related disorder.  The study found that one in every four athletes was found to have an actual sleep disorder. Furthermore, every sixth athlete was using sleep medication regularly during the competitive season.  The prevalence of insomnia doubled as the players moved from the training season to the competitive time of the year. This study documents that athletes may need sleep supplements to support their intense training.

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Carbs Help Athletes Sleep Better During Intense Training

If you ask most lifters, what’s the most important part of muscle recuperation, they will immediately say it’s protein, or glutamine, or some other nutritional supplement, but sleep is the most important recuperative aspect of training. Sleep is considered to be the “gold standard” post-exercise recovery procedure amongst athletes. During sleep, muscles are regenerated and during sleep, there is an increase in growth hormone that has significant effects on protein synthesis and repair. If you have ever seen a bodybuilder on an extreme diet getting ready for a show, you will notice that he is sleeping more often.  Sleep is an essential aspect of recovery and fatigue management. Disturbed sleep is often reported as both a contributor and symptom of increased physical strain on the body.

If you’re training intensely, you need to refuel your body with the right amount of protein and carbohydrates. It’s been well established that carbohydrate feeding before and during exercise can provide a substrate for muscle and brain during exercise and can delay muscle fatigue and enhance performance. It’s been well established that during intense training, sleep disturbances can occur especially during periods of calorie restriction.

Few studies have investigated the effects of exercise training on sleep physiology in well-trained athletes. Researcher’s examined changes in sleep markers, mood state and exercise performance in well-trained cyclists undergoing short-term intensified training and carbohydrate nutritional intervention.

Thirteen highly-trained male cyclists participated in two 9-day periods of increased training:

–    A high carbohydrate dietary intervention. The high -carbohydrate group received 24 grams of carbohydrate pre-exercise.   During exercise, participants a carbohydrate-electrolyte solution per hour of exercise; containing 60 grams. Following exercise, participants were provided with recovery nutrition.  The recovery beverage contained 14 grams of carbohydrate and 17 grams of protein.

–     moderate carbohydrate nutritional intervention before, during and after training sessions.

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Sleep and mood state questionnaires were completed daily. At the end of the study, percentage sleep time fell during intensified training despite an increase in time in bed. Sleep efficiency or the quality of sleep decreased during intensified training. Furthermore, there was an increase in the number of wake bouts throughout the night and overall a more fragmented sleep period. Also, the cyclists experienced significant disruptions to mood state, reporting increased tension, anger, fatigue, confusion, depression and increased feelings and symptoms of stress. Despite intensified training having a detrimental effect across a range of sleep parameters, the only difference between conditions observed was significantly longer actual sleep time in moderate carbohydrate group compared with high carbohydrate group. It was also pointed out that during the days 5–6 of intensive training, HR was greater in the moderate carbohydrate group than the high carbohydrate group. This could indicate the lower muscle glycogen levels were resulting in a strained physiological reaction. Mood disturbance increased during intensified training and was greater in the moderate carbohydrate diet than the high carbohydrate diet. The high carbohydrate nutritional intervention reduced some, but not all of the detrimental effects of intense training. This study is also a reminder to all coaches of the need to build ample time for rest, including naps, into their athletes’ training plans.

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Killer SC, Svendsen IS, Jeukendrup AE, Gleeson M. Evidence of disturbed sleep  and mood state in well-trained athletes during short-term intensified training with and without a high carbohydrate nutritional intervention. J Sports Sci. 2015 Sep 25:1-9.

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