We have all heard, “You are what you eat." What we should be saying is, “You are what you metabolize."
The reality is, even if your nutrition and exercise are on point, your body’s true secret weapon on the court is your sleep.
The quality of your sleep directly affects your endurance, strength, recovery, hormones, appetite and metabolism.
The power of 90 minutes
Just as your cell phone has a battery that needs to be recharged, your body and mind also need to be consistently recharged. Instead of using electricity (like your phone), your body uses sleep.
Think of your sleep as powerful 90-minute cycles with multiple stages that repeat all night long. Each cycle has four stages and ends with REM sleep (your dream state).
Stages 1 and 2 are considered light sleep (that twilight sleep we all know). Light sleep gets your body ready to enter deep sleep.
Stages 3 and 4 are deep sleep, which repair and rejuvenate your body. Where deep sleep strengthens your body, REM (rapid eye movement) sleep organizes your mind.
REM sleep is your mind’s efficient filing system for your memories and thoughts. Once REM sleep is over, the cycle repeats.
Check out this graphic—it perfectly illustrates your sleep cycles:
Balanced hormones = a leaner, stronger and faster body
In a perfect world, we would all get enough sleep. The problem is the majority of us live in a state of chronic sleep deprivation, and that causes big challenges with three main hormones: Ghrelin, leptin and cortisol.
Look at ghrelin and leptin as your two hormones that balance your appetite.
Ghrelin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract and stimulates hunger, and leptin is produced in your fat cells and tells your body when you’re full.
When you’re sleep deprived your body over-releases ghrelin, increasing your appetite, and inhibits the release of leptin, preventing you from feeling full. This triggers higher calorie consumption and weight gain, which works against your speed on the court.
Now if that wasn’t bad enough, the other hormone affected by lack of sleep is cortisol (your stress hormone).
That unwanted belly fat we all love so much (yeah right!) is mostly caused by cortisol. When you’re tired, your cortisol levels will naturally rise, which directly affects your blood sugar—increasing your appetite and causing cravings.
This leads to higher calorie and carbohydrate intake, which spikes your blood sugar and causes fat storage. In addition, higher cortisol levels can increase risk of injury and fatigue.
Three strategies to master your sleep
You know why your body need sleep, and some of the hormonal challenges that are triggered without adequate sleep. Now it’s time to get your sleep dialed in and improve your performance on the court with these three strategies.
Set a sleep schedule
As much as many of us hate set schedules, the reality is our body loves them. Your body’s goal is to stay in rhythm and balance, and the best way to do that is by having a sleep schedule.
Simply start with the amount of hours you need to sleep each night and wake up feeling rested. The amount of sleep a person needs is individual and genetic ,so that might be seven, eight or nine hours for you.
Once you know your hours, set your bed and wake time each day.
Of course, there will be the occasional late nights. (We all have to live a little!) On those late nights, still wake up at your normal wake time and then go to sleep a little earlier the next couple nights until you make up for the hours you’ve lost.
You heard me right; sleep can be made up!
Resist the snooze button
It feels so good, hitting that snooze button and knowing you have 30 more minutes in bed. Well, it felt good until now!
That snooze button is a big cause of creating sleep deprivation!
Once you hit the snooze button, your deep sleep and REM sleep is complete and you will only stay in light sleep, which basically does nothing for recharging your body and mind.
It’s basically wasted sleep.
You’re much better off setting your alarm later and waking up right when it goes off to ensure that you are getting the best-quality sleep.
Sleep in a quiet and dark environment
Because you sleep in roughly 90-minute cycles, you’ll enter the light sleep stage multiple times through the night.
If you sleep with the TV on, or there's any noise that changes in volume, it will wake you as you re-enter light sleep, interrupting your sleep cycles. If you need noise, try a noise machine for uninterrupted sound.
If you like falling asleep with the TV on, set a timer for it to go off in 30 minutes. Sleeping in a quiet environment is only part of the equation.
You also want to create a dark environment. Your sleep hormone is melatonin, and it’s released in the dark and inhibited in the light.
The more natural melatonin your body can release, the better quality of sleep you’ll have. So keep those lights off and shades drawn!
There you have it—your complete 411 on sleep, and the exact steps to take your sleep to the next level and take your performance on the court to the next level.
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