How Sleep Can Improve Your Fran Time
“My gym is a smoke and mirrors operation to get my members to sleep more.”
– Robb Wolf If there has ever been a CrossFit coach to understand the importance of sleep, it’s Robb Wolf. A former CrossFit gym owner, biochemist, and now paleo advocate in the fitness community, Robb Wolf has a profound understanding of the chemistry of the human body. He is an expert in his field and so trainers and athletes frequently seek his guidance on how to improve their performance by improving sleep, diet, and training. In many gyms, sleep takes the backburner when it comes to discussions about health and fitness. Most CrossFit trainers know that the human body has not evolved much since our caveman ancestors. Because of this, trainers frequently teach the importance of eating like a hunter and gatherer. They talk about the importance of constantly varied workouts. But how often are you discussing sleep behaviors and how these relate to the fundamental needs of the human body? Sleep plays an important enough role in an athlete’s performance and overall health that by not having the discussion, athletes and coaches are doing themselves a disservice. This guide will help you understand the impact science says sleep has on a human body, and will provide you with insight on how to help your athletes get better and more adequate rest.
This guide will take you through:
• Why sleep is so important, especially in recovery
• How to monitor sleep behavior and patterns
• How to get a better night’s rest
• What coaches can do to help their athletes improve their sleep hygiene
How Sleep Can Improve Your Fran Time
Who is this guide for?
All athletes from beginners to competitors at the CrossFit games can benefit from a discussion and focus on their sleep behaviors and patterns. This guide will help coaches from CrossFit gyms better understand why sleep is so crucial to an athlete so that you can start the discussion in your gym and help your athletes be healthier, stronger and perform better.
1. How Sleep Helps an Athlete Recover
What is Recovery?
Most athletes know that it’s important to allow their muscles to recover after a tough training session. Still, many decide to go back for more without adequate rest. This can lead to overtraining, which can be detrimental to the long-term success of an athlete. Recovery from a workout happens in two stages.
This is often known as the cool-down phase and occurs immediately following an intense workout. Short-term recovery extends from the moment the workout finishes to hours or days after the workout. In this time, your body replenishes energy and liquid storage that was lost during the workout. Protein synthesis, which involves increasing protein storage in muscles and building muscles to become stronger, is also optimized. Soft tissues repair themselves by removing the lactic acid buildup that accumulates during hard training. All of these functions are helped by high-quality sleep. Long-term recovery
This is built into CrossFit-style workouts. Athletes get more well-rounded workouts that allow them to avoid overtraining muscle groups. CrossFit encourages athletes to train three days on and one day off. This schedule gives athletes a regimen that allows their body to recover regularly over a long period of time. CrossFit workouts are designed to push athletes to their limits with high-intensity training, which increases the need for planned recovery through proper rest. This is where sleep comes in.
What Science Says about Sleep and Recovery
The importance of sleep has been increasingly studied by scientists, and the findings have been eye-opening.
In one study, researchers gathered 30 years of data from the National Football League. This data showed teams that traveled three time zones to play night games had their performance affected by the interruption in their sleep and exercise regimen. The study determined that 67% of the teams were more likely to lose in these situations where sleep was disrupted.
Another study, conducted by Eve Van Cauter, Ph.D., from the University of Chicago Medical School, focused on males between the ages of 18 and 27. These men started their sleep study getting eight hours of sleep per night. As the study progressed, the number of hours they were permitted to sleep decreased slowly, eventually dwindling to just four hours per night. The results showed that when participants got less sleep, their bodies were not able to produce glucose as efficiently and their cortisol levels were higher. This led to a fast decline in their body’s ability to function normally.
The military frequently conducts sleep studies because the nature soldiers are often required to operate at high efficiency on very little rest. In one sleep study conducted by the military, the overall performance of soldiers with fewer hours of rest decreased, showing a reduced ability for marksmanship and a decline in overall mental and physical performance.
These studies looked at people of different age groups, in different careers – and all found the same results: a lack of sleep hinders the performance of the body mentally and physically. According to former sleep researcher Rowan Minnion, CEO of Blonyx Biosciences Inc., getting one night of poor sleep will only affect a person’s mental performance and will have less of an impact on physical capabilities. However, after repeated nights of poor sleep, the body is unable to perform. “Growth hormone is absolutely vital to recovery from exercise, and without sleep you are simply starving your body of it. Higher cortisol levels will also impact recovery,” Minnion said.
How Sleep Helps Your Body Recover
Increased Human Growth Hormone The ability of the body to release the human Growth Hormone (hGH) that Minnion references is dependent on proper sleep patterns. This hormone is what helps athletes grow muscle and thus become stronger. As your athletes are engaged in a rigorous training experience with proper programming designed to give them the strength and endurance they need to be their best, they need hGH to get the most out of their workouts.
Stave off Chronic Illness According to T.S. Wiley and Brent Formby, PhD, authors of “Lights Out,” getting at least
nine and a half hours of sleep for seven months out of the year “is the minimum required to beat cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and depression” (p.164, 2000 edition). This is the conclusion they reached based on studies done by the National Institutes of Health. Lowered Cortisol Levels Cortisol, also referenced by Minnion, is equally important as hGH, if not more so, for the reasons determined by T.S. Wiley and Brent Formby, PhD. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone and can have a direct impact on the body’s insulin levels. With higher cortisol levels at night, as the males had in the study done at the University of Chicago, your body becomes resistant to insulin. This insulin resistance has been linked to fat gain and chronic illnesses like Type 2 diabetes. Improved Metabolism Increased cortisol levels in a person’s body can lead to metabolic chaos. The disruption in metabolism has been shown to have a direct impact on a person’s risk for obesity. According to a German study, each hour of sleep deprivation increased a person’s chance of becoming obese by 33%. Glucose levels also get chaotic with sleep deprivation. As a result, the body is left in a state of confusion when it comes to energy expenditures. For shift workers, such as law enforcement officers and nurses, this can cause metabolic mayhem. The human body is like a chemistry set. When someone is unable to achieve hormonal balance through proper rest and long enough sleep periods, that person’s body is unable to work properly and recover as it needs to in order to be healthy and perform at an optimal level.
2. How To Monitor Sleep Patterns and Performance
It’s clear that sleep is vital to your overall health. The first step toward improving your sleep patterns is to start monitoring behaviors. Understand Your Sleep Cycles To monitor your sleep patterns, you must first understand how your sleep cycles work. Sleep occurs in four stages. Stage 1
Your body starts by slowing your heart rate and allowing your internal temperature to cool. When this happens, your brain has been shown to have tightly packed brain waves known as “spindles.” This stage lasts about 20 minutes. It is thought that during this time, your body stores information learned throughout the day, such as internalizing movements and solidifying muscle memory. Stage 2
This is simply the transition between light sleep and deep sleep. Stage 3
Once your body has passed through Stage 2, you will be completely asleep. This stage is known as the “slow wave sleep” because the body produces slow brain waves, or delta waves. During this stage, your body will produce human growth hormone. This is rushed to muscles through increased blood flow, allowing the body to recover and build muscle. Your body is also strengthening the immune system and normalizing metabolic rates during this stage. Stage 4
This is known as the REM (“rapid eye movement”) stage. During the REM cycle, your body does not move and you are likely to be dreaming. This is the deepest form of sleep and is the time when all the information gathered throughout the day is internalized. REM cycles are what allow the mind to learn and retain memories. The body usually goes Stage 1 → Stage 2 → Stage 3 → Stage 2 → Stage 4, and does four or five of these cycles a night. In the later cycles, your body spends more time in REM sleep. Without enough REM sleep, your brain will not function optimally. And without enough slow-wave (Stage 3) sleep, your body will not receive the chemical balance it needs to recover properly.
Keep a Journal One of the easiest ways to monitor sleep behaviors is to keep a regular journal. In this journal, you should include not only how many hours of sleep you were able to get each night, but also how you felt in the morning, how many times you woke up in the middle of the night, the food you ate before you went to bed and when you ate it, when you exercised, etc. At the end of each week you can reference this journal and gain a deeper understanding of how well you slept and the impact it had on your performance inside and outside the gym. Invest in a Sleep-Monitoring Device A journal cannot show everything. Because it is difficult to track what you are doing while you are in your deepest form of sleep and how long you have been in your REM cycle, many people invest in electronics to help track their sleep. Devices like FitBit and MyZeo track your body’s sleep patterns and cycles. You simply wear a bracelet while you sleep, and the device works overnight to monitor your sleep behaviors.
When you wake, you get a report that shows you how you slept last night. This is what you’d get from Fitbit:
Athletes who understand the importance of sleep on performance and health tend to want a more efficient way to monitor their sleep patterns. Using these devices to track not only your sleep behaviors but also your performance and nutrition can help you get a faster overview of your overall health.
3. Tips to Get a Good Night Of Restful Sleep
You have made the decision to get the sleep you know your body needs. Now you need to create a setting where you can achieve optimal sleep. Here are a few tips. Create the right sleep environment Your body has not evolved from that of our caveman ancestors when it comes to sleep. To signal to your body that it is time to rest, it is a good idea to try to create an environment similar to where the cavemen slept. Make your room as dark and quiet as possible, set a cooler temperature so that your body can relax, and reserve your bedroom for sleep, sex, and light fiction. That means no TV, iPad, computer, phone, or books that make you think hard – your bedroom isn’t a place for (cognitive) stimulation. Set a bedtime and routine for yourself Your parents had a bedtime set for you each night when you were a child. This practice is important to carry on as an adult. When you go to bed at a consistent time each night and have the same routine (i.e. read your favorite fiction book for 10 minutes) you train your body to know when it is time to fall asleep. This will help you fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer and leave you more refreshed in the morning. Stop looking at screens before you go to bed Many people unwind at the end of the day by watching their favorite television program or reading a book on their electronic reader. But digital waves can have a profound effect on your endocrine system. In particular, the amount of melatonin – the hormone your body requires for sleep at night – released into your body is directly affected when you watch television and look at a digital screen. Blue light emitted from digital screens is the same wavelength of light as daylight. So when you’re catching up on Facebook before bed, you’re actually giving your body the same signals that it gets when it’s time to wake up. You can imagine how this prevents you from sleeping better! Don’t sacrifice sleep for a workout For many athletes, getting up too early to make it into the gym can have a negative impact on their long-term fitness goals. Instead, if your schedule only allows you to get minimal hours of rest before you have to be up to go to the gym, sacrifice your workout and sleep longer to allow your body to recover fully from your busy day. Watch what you consume at least 3 hours before bed
10 | How Sleep Can Improve Your Fran Time
Caffeine, alcohol, and any other food or drink filled with sugar can have a direct impact on your ability to rest. While you may feel as though you fall asleep quickly, your body is unable to stay asleep for the length of time it needs to, leaving you awake in the middle of the night and missing out on much needed deep sleep. Don’t do your workout too early or too late in the day Your body has what are called circadian rhythms. These rhythms prepare your body for its optimal performance throughout the day. Working out too early in the morning or too late at night will leave your body at its lowest circadian rhythms, lowering your ability to perform in the gym. For shift workers, this is particularly important as many law enforcement professionals and medical professionals aim to work out just before they go to sleep during the daytime hours, or wake up early to squeeze in a workout before they have to be back at their job. Over the long term, this can have a negative impact on their overall performance. Stretch adequately after each workout Lactic acid is built up in muscles as the body trains hard. Over time, this chemical buildup can leave muscles stiff and sore, which can eventually lead to cramps. These cramped muscles can directly affect the quality of your sleep. When you stretch after a workout, you help release lactic acid buildup and lower your risk of cramping, which will allow you to sleep better and recover faster. When it comes to sleep, our bodies really are still like those of our caveman ancestors. Our hormones that help us fall asleep at night and recover from the day’s work are still controlled by light and dark. The way our brain activates in some areas and deactivates in others throughout the day is also very similar to that of our ancestors. By going back to our primal roots when it comes to sleep behaviors, you can help your body get the rest it needs and sleep better.
4. How Coaches Can Help Athletes Get Better Sleep
As a coach, you want to help your athletes reach their optimal performance. Not only will this keep them healthy but it will also allow them to be happier with their experience in your gym as a whole. To help, there are a number of things you can do at your CrossFit box to help your athletes get the most out of their time with you. Hold a seminar Many CrossFit boxes offer seminars about the Paleo diet and the importance of eating right. With sleep being just as important as proper nutrition, sleep seminars can help athletes understand how monitoring and improving sleep can improve their deadlift or Fran time. Frequently discuss sleep patterns and behaviors with athletes As everyone begins to cool down after a workout, you have your members’ attention and are able to ask about how they felt, their sleep patterns the days and week before, and remind them of the importance of sleep in recovery. The more you discuss this, the more awareness you can raise around sleep in performance. This will stick with your athletes and help them live healthier lifestyles away from the gym. Encourage a routine for your athletes Sure, your CrossFit gym offers a variety of class times. But that does not mean that athletes should pick and choose and vary their times throughout the week or month. Instead, as people join your gym, encourage them to dedicate their time to a specific class. This will help them establish a routine in their life and within their body. Make a habit of stretching as a group after a WOD Stretching your muscles is important for a number of reasons. The benefit that stretching after a workout has on sleep is only one of them, but it is an important one. When you stretch as a group after a WOD, you encourage people to stretch for a long enough time and in the right areas. This can help your athletes sleep better at night and improve their overall performance over the long term. Communicate online about the importance of sleep It is likely that you communicate with your athletes when they are away from the gym, such as on your website or through Facebook or Twitter. This is the perfect way to send a friendly reminder to get a good night of rest while your athletes are away from the gym. When you do this, you decrease the chances of your athletes forgetting the tips you mentioned in the gym. As your athletes hear about the importance of sleep in more places, they will begin to learn more about why you are so dedicated to promoting proper sleep behaviors.
As a coach, you will find that encouraging your athletes to sleep better and longer is the fastest way to help them see an impact on their performance. It is also one of the best ways to encourage long-term health benefits. By raising awareness in the gym about sleep performance, you can help your athletes live a healthier lifestyle and feel better inside and outside your box.
As a rule, you and your athletes should think about and discuss sleep regularly. Make a conscious effort that for every moment you and your athletes spend contemplating your training regime, diet or supplements, you spend multiple moments thereafter considering your sleep behaviors and patterns. Your athletes want to maximize their efforts in the gym and live a healthy lifestyle. As you begin the discussion with your athletes and with yourself on how well you are sleeping at night, here are a few questions to get you started:
• How many hours before bed do you stop looking at any type of screen, such as the TV, your computer or your eReader?
• How many hours of sleep on average are you getting each week?
• What can you do to improve your sleep situation to get a better night’s rest?
Coaches want to give their athletes the best experience as a member of their gym by transforming their overall health. Help your members achieve greatness by creating a focus and culture of sleep in your gym.