“Dear Naps, I am sorry for shunning you in preschool. Please come back in to my life!”

It is no secret that adequate rest is vital for recovery and overall health. But rest goes beyond taking a day off from the gym. Sleep is crucial for our mental and physical well-being, affecting almost every tissue and organ in the body, including our immune function, hormones, metabolism, memory, learning, breathing and cardiovascular health. On average, 7 to 8 hours of sleep are required for optimal performance for non-athletes. For athletes, as the level of physical activity increases, so does the amount of stress placed on our muscles and nervous system. This increase in damage requires more time to rebuild and repair, thus increasing the amount of sleep needed to 9 to 10 hours.1

To understand why we need extra sleep, it is important to understand what happens when we sleep. Sleep consists of two alternating stages: REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement). NREM consists of four stages and incorporates about 75% of our sleep. During this state, the blood pressure drops, breathing becomes slower, muscles become relaxed, energy is restored and there is an increase in blood supply to the muscles. Hormones, such as growth hormone, are also released to provide an environment that encourages tissue growth and repair. REM sleep occurs after NREM, and alternates about every 90 minutes. During this stage, the eyes begin darting back and forth, blood pressure and heart rate rise, the brain becomes active and the muscles become paralyzed. REM sleep is associated with dreaming and memory consolidation. Healthy sleep requires 4 to 5 cycles through NREM and REM. With each cycle, the length of REM lengthens and NREM shortens. If sleep is cut short, the body doesn’t have time to complete all of the phases needed for muscle repair, memory consolidation and release of hormones regulating growth and appetite.2

How can you ensure a good night’s rest?
1. Avoid caffeine 4 to 6 hours before your planned bed time.
2. Ensure a dark, quiet and cool sleeping environment.
3. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to keep your internal clock consistent.
4. Take naps to make up for lost sleep.
5. Turn off electronic devices that are backlit (TVs, computers, etc.) to boost production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep-wake cycles.
6. Practice relaxation techniques before bed, including deep breathing, visualization and progressive muscle techniques. (Starting from your toes and working your way up, tense all the muscles as tightly as possible, then relax.)3

Lack of sleep impairs levels of reasoning, can lead to depression, increases stress hormone, and increases risk of infections, heart disease and obesity. Ensuring adequate rest improves your health, lowers your risk of injury, improves your mood and emotions, assists with weight control, improves memory and improves your immune system. Now is the time to make sleep a priority. With the proper amount of quality rest, good nutrition and consistent training, your athletic gains are a few REM cycles away from beast mode.

1. Newsinhealth.nih.gov. The Benefits of Slumber – NIH News in Health, April 2013. 2015. Available at: http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/issue/apr2013/feature1. Accessed July 12, 2015.
2. Goldfarb L. The Many Stages of Sleep. Cbncom. 2015. Available at: http://www.cbn.com/health/nutrition/goldfarb_sleepstages.aspx. Accessed July 12, 2015.
3. Smith M, Robinson L, Segal R. How to Sleep Better: Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep. Helpguideorg. 2015. Available at: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/sleep/how-to-sleepbetter.htm. Accessed July 12, 2015.

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