Sleep more, train better, race faster

By Charlene Waldner

“Without rest there is no training”.

This is a quote my swim coach Neil Harvey told me a while back and I’ll never forget it.

What is the key difference between a pro and an age group athlete? It’s not how many hours they train, but more importantly, the quality and time spent recovering, napping, feet up, and hours of deep restful sleep.

There are many studies which support that sports performance will be significantly impaired by poor sleep patterns. The easiest way one can improve physical performance is with high quality, uninterrupted sleep for overnight recovery.
Insufficient or poor quality sleep can lead athletes down a slippery slope. Effects of poor quality sleep can show up as a decline in physical and mental performance, a weakened immune system and possible weight gain.

The quality of your sleep is just as important. Disturbed, poor quality and restless sleep will interrupt the sleep cycle. However, individuals need to reassess their own time management for duration and sufficient number of hours needed.

There is overwhelming evidence demonstrating that poor performance and mental alertness are related to poor sleep habits. We live in a society that drives us to sleep less and work more. We consume copious amounts of caffeine and other stimulants, thereby encouraging our bodies to fight against natural responses.

Everyone can function at different levels of required sleep. Some people can get by on 4 hours a night, most need 7-8 hrs, and athletes may demand 10+ hours. Athletes require more sleep to recover, and repair damaged muscle tissue from the demands and stresses of training. Quality sleep enhances growth hormone production needed for tissue repair and muscle rebuilding.

Physical effects of poor sleep are:
-Reduced endurance
-Reduced cardiovascular endurance
-Impaired motor function
-Increased appetite and weight gain
-Delayed visual reaction times.
-Delayed auditory reaction times
-Hormonal disturbances including stress
-Serious health problems including insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes

Psychological and mental effects of poor sleep:
-Diminished mental functioning
-Reduced short term memory
-Impaired mood
-Increased perceived rate of exertion-a specific training intensity will seem harder
-Lowered serotonin levels-a brain transmitter that helps regulate sleep, appetite and mood.

Ways to improve Sleep Quality:
• Avoid intense exercise at least 3-4 hours before bed
• Sleep in a darkened room or wear an eye mask to keep out light.
• Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and other stimulants, especially before bed time.
• Don’t eat a large meal before retiring for the night. Similarly, don’t go to bed hungry, especially if you’ve trained that evening as you may awaken later in the night with hunger.
• Increase carbohydrate intake in the evening to help induce sleep
• Limit computer time and watching TV, which can act as stimulants.
• Keep your bedroom for sleep and intimacy only
• Drinking an herbal tea or warm milk can aid sleep
• If you’re suffering from sleep problems, try to increase your intake of magnesium-rich foods (beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, wholegrain breads and cereals, and green leafy vegetables); magnesium supplements may be also useful
• Light stretching or gentle yoga poses may aid relaxation.
• Homeopathic or natural remedies may help to unwind, still and soothe the mind, and ease into a natural sleep.

Sometimes a good night sleep or a recovery day should take priority over a training session. Think about it – if you’re tired from lack of sleep, are you really getting the benefit of the workout?
LifeSport Coach Charlene Waldner is an NCCP certified triathlon coach and champion athlete who has spent several years in the health and wellness industry working as a fitness instructor, personal trainer and coach.
Beginner and experienced triathletes are invited to join the LifeSport Team. Contact LifeSport Coaching ( or visit

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