Sleep is the easiest way to see significant improvements in your performance. In fact, four time CrossFit Games Champion Rich Froning has said that getting enough sleep was one of the keys to his success.
While we need to train right and eat right, without sleep that work is wasted and could even be harmful for a body so sleep deprived it can’t heal itself. In a June 2012 CrossFit Journal article, the author (Martin Rawls-Meehan) references a number of studies have shown the following:
athletes who consistently get around 10 hours of sleep per night show marked improvement in strength, speed, agility and reaction time,
athletes who get around 10 hours of sleep demonstrate significantly better muscle memory for movements learned the day before, and
people who don’t get enough sleep are more prone to diabetes, obesity, hypertension and other various cardiometabolic and endocrine disorders.
Four Stages of Sleep
Each sleep cycle takes 90 minutes with each cycle having four stages:
Stage 1: lasting 20 minutes, this is where the heart rate slows and the body temperature cools down
Stage 2: This is the transition from light sleep to deep sleep
Stage 3: This is complete deep sleep (aka ‘slow wave sleep’ ). Benefits include:
maximum natural production (up to 70% of the body’s daily production) of human growth hormone (HGH) to initiate muscle recovery making you stronger and faster.
suppression of the production of cortisol which is linked to Type 2 diabetes, memory loss and cognitive impairment, and
activation of the parasympathetic nervous system to recover and recuperate.
Stage 4: Otherwise known as “rapid-eye-movement sleep,” or REM. This is the stage where we dream and the benefits include:
improved performance of highly skilled movements (ie. olympic lifts and gymnastics),
transfer of learned muscle movements such as the above to permanent memory, and
a more positive mood (due to the increased use of the brain’s hippocampus).
During the first few cycles, deep-sleep periods are longer and REM periods are shorter, but after the fourth cycle, REM periods become much longer and the deep-sleep phases much shorter.
Steps to Sleeping for Performance
While 8 hours is the minimum for an athlete try to block out 9 to 10 hours a day for sleep. Given that we all have unique sleep needs, you will figure out how much sleep works best for you.
If you consistently wake up feeling good without an alarm clock, that is a strong sign you’re close to where you need to be in terms of sleep.
You spend 1/3 of your life in bed so make sure you have a good mattress. Some things you can look for:
made primarily with natural materials,
softness/firmness you can control, and
creates airflow from top to bottom.
Some other Do’s and Don’ts include …
Give up smoking
Workout in the late afternoon or early evening (finish before 7:30 if possible)
Create a before-bed routine
Keep your room dark, quiet and cool at night
Avoid caffeine after early afternoon
Do not eat a big meal or have alcohol with 3 hours of going to bed
Avoid long naps during the day
No screen time right before bed as the blue light that is emitted inhibits production of melatonin which prevents sleep (newer phones allow you to set blue light blocking)
After a day of moving around, thinking, exercising and learning, the human body needs to recover. The more such activities we undertake and the more intense they are, the more profound the recovery must be.
This is especially true for those of us engaged in high intensity training such as CrossFit. As such, sleep is especially important and cannot be ignored.