Fitness: Do you toss and turn the night before the big game?


Although the negative effects of insufficient sleep on athletic performance are well accepted, the impact may be even greater depending on the type of endeavor and the time of day it is performed.

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We’ve all had those nights before a big athletic event when it’s impossible to get a solid eight hours of shut-eye. Sometimes it’s hard to fall asleep. Other times you wake up in the middle of the night, followed by what seems like endless hours of tossing and turning. Then there are those early morning wake-up calls that drag you out of your restless sleep so you can make it to an event or workout on time.

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How does poor sleep affect athletic performance the next day? Research shows that any loss of sleep can reduce your chances of being at your best. Sleep facilitates recovery, strengthens immunity, restores energy, and consolidates memory and motor learning — all vital aspects of an athlete’s well-being and ability to reach their potential. Lack of sleep, on the other hand, negatively affects alertness, reaction time, decision-making, mood, self-confidence and emotional control. It also increases perceived exertion, meaning that sleepy athletes feel like they are working harder than they are.

Although the negative effects of insufficient sleep on athletic performance are well accepted, there is growing evidence to suggest that the impact may be even greater depending on the type of sporting endeavor and the time of day it is performed.

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A review of 77 studies on sleep and athletic performance, led by a research team in Australia, divided all data into specific exercise categories: anaerobic power, speed/power endurance, high-intensity interval training, strength, endurance, strength-endurance and skill. The researchers again looked at the type of sleep loss — trouble sleeping, trouble sleeping, or early rising — and whether the exercise was done in the morning or in the afternoon/evening.

Their results confirmed what many expected: the impact of not getting enough sleep the night before a practice, game, meet or competition is more nuanced than previously thought.

“Overall, our results show that acute sleep loss negatively affects next-day performance; however, the magnitude of the effect depends on the type of exercise performed, as well as what pattern of sleep loss preceded the exercise,” the researchers said.

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A closer look at the data suggests that too little sleep negatively affects sports and highly skilled tasks more than endurance, strength or power-based activities such as running, cycling or working out in the gym. . What really affects athletic performance after sleep loss is the associated deficits in reaction time, alertness, attention, memory, and decision making.

“Physical tasks that are also cognitively demanding are likely to be most affected by acute sleep loss,” the researchers said.

The data also reveals that physical activity performed later in the day is more likely to be affected by insufficient sleep than exercise or competitions that take place in the morning.

“We found that, on average, exercise performance declined by about 0.4 percent per hour after sleep loss,” the researchers said. “For example, if an individual gets up early (around 3 a.m.) and performs a task 12 hours later (around 3 p.m.), then a five percent reduction can be expected.”

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The researchers further suggested that “if exercise is performed after a period of sleep loss, it should be done as soon as possible.”

It’s a good thing to keep in mind if you’re lucky enough to be in control of exercising after a good night’s sleep. Good news, too, for anyone facing an early start after a night of tossing and turning. But even those people need to be aware of the consequences of starting too soon.

It turns out that not having a good night’s sleep has a more negative effect on athletic performance than going to bed late or having trouble falling asleep. So, if you’re in the habit of hitting the road early before an event, you might want to consider arriving the day before the early start, even if it means going to bed later than usual. This is especially important for individuals who routinely struggle to sleep before big events.

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Such small but impactful changes in training and travel habits can better accommodate a typical night of restless sleep before competition. But what is still lacking in the field of sleep science is information about the effect of fragmented sleep—repeated short awakenings during the night—on physical performance. It is also unclear whether the quality, as opposed to the quantity, of sleep can moderate the effects of sleep deprivation.

Despite these gaps in knowledge, athletes can incorporate some of this latest data into their pre-competition strategies and reap the benefits of improved performance – which will make them sleep a lot easier.

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