How getting a better night’s sleep will help you recover faster
Time and time again as a Sports Specialist Physio, during the initial comprehensive assessment with new patients I am shocked at how many novice trainers and experienced runners alike neglect to get a consistent good night’s sleep. We live in a fast pace world and for plenty of people, shutting off at night and getting at least 6-8 hours of quality sleep after training, work and errands can be nearly impossible. In fact, the results of the 2016 Sleep Health Survey of Australian Adults showed that nearly half of Australians report waking feeling unrefreshed at least a few nights per week. Poor sleep can affect the human body in a myriad of ways and for regular trainers and athletes, the negative effects of poor sleep are exacerbated even further.
Much more than just feeling good, during a comfortable and deep sleep is when your body repairs and regenerates damaged tissue and prepares your bones and muscles to be ready for your next workout. Long distance runners really need that sleep and repair time to make sure that tired and sore muscles recover adequately from training.
Why aren’t Australians getting consistent quality sleep and what are the side effects?
Sleep and its quality and duration has been studied for a number of years and there are multiple studies that link sleep with increased risk of injury and impaired physical and cognitive performance. There are many reasons why we don’t get enough sleep, the most common reasons being:
- 2% of Australians report having difficulty falling asleep
- 9% said they wake a lot during the night
- 8% wake up too early and can’t get back to sleep
- 2% of Aussies can’t get a good sleep because of loud and frequent snoring
- 6% have restless leg syndrome
- 3% suffer from Doctor diagnosed sleep apnoea
All those restless nights have flow on effects in our daily lives too, as a result of their poor sleep, the participants in the Sleep Study reported:
- 6% suffer from daytime sleepiness
- 2% suffer from fatigue or exhaustion
- 6% feel irritable or moody
What are the physiological effects of poor sleep?
If feeling sleepy during the day or being in a bad mood aren’t enough, lack of quality sleep has also been linked to a number of physical effects and has been shown to make poor sleepers more vulnerable to suffering particular injuries. Recent studies have shown that poor sleepers who are amateur or elite athletes:
- Have lower general health and are more susceptible to physical and cognitive stress
- Have reduced muscle protein resynthesis which can cause muscle degradation
- May have impaired maximal muscle strength in compound movements
- Adolescent athletes who sleep less than 8 hours are at 1.7 times greater risk of injury than those who sleep more than 8 hours
Tips for getting a better sleep
Unfortunately, getting a better sleep is easier said than done and relies on a number of different factors depending on the person. During your initial assessment your physio can discuss some more in dept strategies on how you can increase the quality of your sleep, and ensure your body is operating at its optimal recovery rate. Strategies to optimise your sleep quality and quantity can focus on increasing your sleep duration, improving sleep environment, and identifying any potential sleep disorders, along with:
- Maintaining a regular sleep routine and schedule
- Not using any electronic devices in the hour or so leading up to bed time
- Avoiding coffee, nicotine and alcohol just prior to bed
 Michelle Biggins, Roisin Cahalan, Thomas Comyns, Helen Purtill & Kieran O’Sullivan (2018) Poor sleep is related to lower general health, increased stress and increased confusion in elite Gaelic athletes, The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 46:1, 14-20, DOI: 10.1080/00913847.2018.1416258
 Inadequate sleep and muscle strength: Implications for resistance training Knowles, Olivia E. et al. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, Volume 21, Issue 9, 959 – 968
 Milewski, Matthew David, David L. Skaggs, Gregory A. Bishop, James Lee Pace, David A. Ibrahim, Tishya A. L. Wren and Audrius Barzdukas. “Chronic lack of sleep is associated with increased sports injuries in adolescent athletes.” Journal of pediatric orthopedics 34 2 (2014): 129-33 .