Getting enough sleep: health and athletic consequences of inadequate sleep

Sleep is a wonderful thing. It lets us recharge and wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to tackle another adventure. Or does it?

Your body needs sleep. But many of you are not getting enough of it. A recent review of insufficient sleep data from the CDC reports that about 35% of adults are not getting enough sleep. The data from 2009 shows that only about 30% of teens were getting enough sleep (70% are NOT getting enough).

This information is from a general population review. When you add in endurance athletics and strength training, you require even more. This short article from WedbMD on sleep improving athletic performance explains that, while everyone is different, athletes in training should add 'about an hour' of extra sleep per night. You can extrapolate this to mean if you're training at an unusually high level, you made need even more than that.

This article hosted by the Gatorade Science Institute lists and summarizes a few more studies showing the impact of sleep or lack thereof on maximal and sub-maximal performance in both endurance and strength/power athletics. And here is a very descriptive article from the National Institute of Health about how a lack of sleep affects health via metabolic, endocrine and immune system consequences. If you read this article you will be scared, or convinced, hopefully both.

But I know you're busy, so here's the summary of the above and others:

• During sleep the bulk of your naturally occurring human growth hormone (HGH) is released. This aids in muscle repair, which also occurs primarily while you sleep.
• Sleep allows your brain to recover and organize and make sense of your day/life.
• 7-8 hours is normal in adults, 9-10 in teens, 10+ in younger folk. Add time for activity.
• Napping is helpful, especially for cognitive function, alertness, and skill absorption
• One night of inadequate sleep won't derail your next day performance, but several nights will.
• With a complete lack of sleep, most people would die in ten days or less.

With inadequate sleep, re: not enough or disturbed through multiple interruptions, loud ambient noises, sleep apnea, or your beautiful new baby :-) the following slowly results:

• Less HGH than maximum is produced, resulting in incomplete muscle repair and testosterone reduction, meaning less muscle and more fat on your frame
• Mood, judgement, and coordination are all negatively impacted
• Time to fatigue is decreased (you get tired more quickly)
• Perceived exertion is increased (things feel harder than your physiology dictates)
• Heat management is negatively impacted
• The stress hormone cortisol level increases (this is bad)
• Reduction in insulin sensitivity (re: increase in insulin resistance - also bad)
• Inflammation in your body increases, which has a long term correlation with cancer
• Increased appetite and associated weight gain
• Immune system is compromised; you become sick more easily
• Long term, poor sleep is linked with diabetes, obesity, heart disease, falling asleep at the wheel, and in general, dying before you should.

There are a few other points but this covers the bulk of them as related to athletics. You need your sleep. If you're currently too busy to get your sleep, then you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to unbusy yourself, improve your time management, and get to bed on time.

Coach Marty Gaal is a USA Triathlon Coach and NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist. He has been coaching endurance athletes since 2002. One Step Beyond is the producer of the Powerstroke: Speed through force and form DVD.