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Getting quality sleep to improve your sporting personal best

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With summer almost upon us and with the very British calendar of events such as Wimbledon Championships, Commonwealth Games and the Women’s Football World Cup, it’s going to be a fantastic summer for sport!

Whatever your sporting preference, whether you’re a golfer or runner, a professional athlete to those indulging in a bit of sporting fun, taking sleep and recovery seriously can help you to gain that ‘competitive edge’ and improve overall sports performance.

Our resident sleep and wellbeing expert, Natalie Pennicotte-Collier, works with Team GB Athletes, and has taken a look at the links between sleep and sport. Here are her top tips and expert advice on how to get the best night’s sleep and why it’s so crucial to achieving your personal best.

"If you were to tell any athlete you had a new natural treatment which improves performance, reduces stress chemicals in the body, naturally increases the human growth hormone and enhances the rate of recovery, they would all pay attention!

Numerous studies show that athletes who increase their sleeping time from an average of 7-8 hrs to between 9-10 hours significantly improve speed and stamina in their sport. This is because sleep is a powerful natural performance enhancer for your mind and body. It’s the essential element for help to increase energy, performance and stamina as well as mental agility and split second intuitive decision making, which can be hugely important in fast paced games!"

So what exactly does good sleep do for an athlete’s body and mind?

  • Sleep helps to shape ‘muscle memory’ a form of procedural memory in which continued repetition of a body movement becomes automatic and perfectly ingrained in to your memory
  • It maintains and improves waking-state mental processing. This means that good and consistent sleep improves your cognitive brain alertness and function day after day
  • Good sleep also supports muscle growth and actively supports the mechanisms that store and restore energy in the muscles - in turn improving performance and of course aids the healing time of injury
  • It also restores energy in our brain cells – mental energy becomes depleted over the course of a day as the mind processes information and directs the body in our daily tasks

"But how do we get this kind of quality sleep? Training schedules place significant demands on our time and body, with many athletes needing to train early in the morning or late at night. This is particularly true of amateur athletes who also have day jobs and family commitments to juggle.

This month I caught up with some of the GB Snowsport Athletes who are training for the Winter Games so that I could help them prepare and get the best night’s sleep possible. With that in mind I wanted to share my Sleep and Recovery strategy so you can try it at home too:

  1. Begin to look at sleeping and recovery across a 24hr period, rather than just at night.
  2. Plan in micro-naps throughout the 24 hours, and have days which are without physical exertion! Because the more sleep you can have the more it will help your sports performance.
  3. Just like a pro athlete, commit to trying to fit in a couple of 9-10 hour sleep sessions each week (rather than the standard 7-8 hours most people get a night).
  4. Establish a precise wind down routine and morning ritual – crucial for handling mental pressure the night before a sporting event. Just taking 15 minutes every morning to meditate or doing exercises which are designed to help you relax and focus on your breathing can have a big impact on your mind and body, helping it to cope with stress and pressure.
  5. Make sure you have the very best quality mattress, which is perfect for your comfort requirements and supports your body fully. Additionally supportive pillows that you change regularly to ensure their performance in supporting your head and neck are an important consideration too. All these elements help to create an environment for highest quality kind of sleep, with the least disturbance for the body.
  6. Finally, just remember the powerful fact that sleep improves sports performance, so be sure to include it as an integral part of your training schedule."

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