Letâ€™s face it, most of us love to sleep and one-third of our lives are spent sleeping. For gymnasts in training and especially during competition season, right before meets, proper sleep can be critical. Studies seem to suggest that gymnasts, who get an extra amount of sleep (about two hours), are more likely to have a better performance and attitude toward competition.
Increased Training and Stress Require More Sleep
As the levels of physical training and competition mental stress increase, the amount of sleep we require increases as well. During periods of really intense training, like in the summer time, gymnasts may also require up to 2 hours more of sleep each night.
No Sleep = No Progress
During the school year, sleep seems to be one of the first things to be neglected with the demands of school, homework and gymnastics training. Staying up late at night, poor quality sleep and having to get up early for school can definitely negatively affect gymnastics training progress.
Lack of sleep can interfere with training and competition performance in three ways:
- During deep sleep and periods of dreaming is when the subconscious integrates into the brain and with all previous physical and mental experiences, all of the gymnastics and motor skills learned that day, and integrates all of the experiences and activities that occurred that day. Such deep sleep is necessary for locking in skill acquisition and gymnastics movement patterns. Lack of sleep can interfere with gymnastics skill learning and training from permanently taking hold in the body and mind.
- Lack of sleep can increase the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, which can physically interfere with increases in muscle mass and strength growth, injury repair and healing processes and normal cell growth and slow reaction time.
- Lack of sleep reduces slows down mental information processing, interferes with good decision making and decreases a gymnast’s ability to focus and concentrate.
Sleep is a significant stimulator of growth hormone release – the bodyâ€™s natural agent for cell growth and reproduction. In addition to acting to increase muscle mass, growth hormone also stimulates the immune system. Sleep deprivation raises levels of the stress hormone Cortisol which may interfere with tissue repair and growth.
Sleep Tips to Improve Competition Performance
- The mind and body love consistent sleeping patterns, so your body’s internal clock is already set around a regular schedule. You should do whatever is necessary to maintain regular wake up times and sleep patterns right before competitions. It may require significant work to adjust to different time zones, when competing internationally, but even modest time changes can affect performance.
- Don’t take naps within two to three hours of your normal bed time.
- It can be beneficial to nap during the day. The best time to do so is just after lunch and then schedule 45 – 90 minutes for your nap.
- Avoid caffeine and other stimulants 4 – 6 hours before going to bed.
- Avoid high intensity training, like strength training 2&1/2 – 3 hours before going to sleep, if possible.
- Create a bed time ritual, perhaps involving quiet time and mental programming, about 30 minutes before you go to bed. You want to reduce stress and allow the mind to relax.
- Cut out loud music, avoid bright lights, and avoid working on computers and thinking about any school related stress just before sleeping.
- The sleep environment is very important, so make sure you have a cool, dark, quiet bedroom and a comfortable mattress and pillow. Consider taking your own pillow when going to meets, if you have a hard time finding one as comfortable..
- Avoid eating any large meals 2&1/2 – 3 hours before going to bed.
- Gymnasts should make a point of making sure they get enough sleep for regular training, pre-meet training, and especially do whatever is necessary to get enough sleep before competitions.
- Over a period of several weeks before any major competition, gymnasts could gradually extend their amount of nightly rest and sleep to reduce the negative effects of sleep debt on their competition.
- REM (Rapid Eye movement) sleep cycles, indicative of dreaming, come in 90 minute blocks. It seems reasonable that gymnasts should plan sleep in multiples of 90 minute REM blocks. That would be in 7&1/2, 9 or 10&1/2 hour segments.
- You should reset your alarm clock to wake you up, in whatever is the most reasonable 90 minute multiple of sleep, you will have each night.
- Try to avoid waking up suddenly in the middle of deep REM sleep, or you may feel sleepy and listless the whole day.
- If you have a hard time waking up, you may want to use a caffeine drink, but one without sugar to avoid the high/low sugar cycle.
- Plan to wake up a couple of hours early for an early meet. You will likely perform better if you have plenty of time to prepare, rather than just waking up and having to compete almost right away.
- You can probably go one day on less sleep than normal, and still function well at practice or even a meet, but two or three days of lack of sleep will likely interfere with a maximum performance.