When I woke up this morning my girlfriend asked me, "Did you sleep good?" I said, "No, I made a few mistakes." -- Steven Wright
Sleep. For some, it's easy. For others, not so much. How much does it affect athletic performance, and what can you do about it?
We talked with Dr. David Claman, Masters cyclist, professor, and director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the UC San Francisco Medical Center, about improving your sleep:
PEZ: For athletes who find themselves having difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep the night before an event, what's actually going on?
Dr. David Claman: My colloquial explanation for what's going on [with pre-event anxiety] is that it's like worrying about an early-morning plane flight and getting to the airport. You're on edge even before you go to bed, worried about the alarm, getting to the airport, and getting through security...because you're so on edge, you sleep fitfully, and often feel that you hardly rest at all....The more scientific description of that is that you're hyperaroused -- not sexually aroused, although some people use that to relax -- if you're anxious, worried, on edge, your body has a physiologic response. You're more tense, and the muscle tension tends to make your mind feel more anxious, and so you get a physical activation from the hyperarousal.
PEZ: What can athletes do to prevent that from happening, and deal with it if it does?
Dr. Claman: In general, what you really want [in order] to feel not only rested but also able to train effectively is what I'd call an adequate and consistent duration of sleeping. "Adequate and consistent" doesn't have to be perfect all the time, but through thick and thin, if you're fairly consistent about your sleep schedule, that's one general recommendation for keeping the ability to sleep the way you want to. Then your circadian rhythms are lined up.
[For example] If you always go to bed around 11, then your mind is going to know that as it gets close to 11, it's time to be tired, and it's easier to fall asleep. If you're going to get up at 7 and make [your sleep] around eight hours, then your mind kind of knows to wait for that hour. Especially if you're training, the average person probably needs eight, maybe even eight and a half hours to be optimally rested. Some people get by with seven, seven and a half, and they're only mildly sleep-deprived. If you're generally well-rested, one night of not sleeping very well doesn't have a major impact. My personal impression is that the day after I don't sleep as well, I'm OK; it's 24 hours after that when I feel more of the lingering effects.