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The Importance of Sleep Cycles for the Athlete

laying in bed reading a book

Sleep is important for everyone. It's something that doesn't get enough attention in our current society, and the impaired health of so many is proof of that. This post focuses solely around the importance of sleep and the athlete. Before you leave the post because you don't consider yourself an "athlete", hear us out. We believe everyone and anyone who moves their body in a purposeful way to better their health, physique, strength, endurance, etc. IS AN ATHLETE. So if you can say "yes" to that...then read along.

 

Sleep is divided into several stages, each characterized by unique patterns of brain activity, physiological changes, and depth of sleep.The stages of sleep are typically divided into two main categories: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Here's an overview of each stage:


  1. Stage 1 NREM Sleep (N1):

  • This is the lightest stage of sleep, where you transition from wakefulness to sleep.

  • Brain waves begin to slow down from the alpha rhythm (typical of wakefulness) to theta waves.

  • Muscle activity decreases, and you may experience sudden muscle contractions known as hypnic jerks.

  • Lasts for only a few minutes.

  1. Stage 2 NREM Sleep (N2):

  • This stage is characterized by a further decrease in heart rate and body temperature.

  • Brain waves become slower with occasional bursts of rapid activity known as sleep spindles and K-complexes.

  • It makes up the largest portion of total sleep time in a normal sleep cycle, typically about 45-55%.

  1. Stage 3 NREM Sleep (N3), also known as Slow Wave Sleep (SWS):

  • This is deep, restorative sleep often referred to as delta sleep because of the presence of delta brain waves.

  • It is harder to awaken someone from this stage, and if awakened, they may feel groggy or disoriented.

  • During this stage, the body repairs and regenerates tissues, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system.

  • Growth hormone is released during this stage, which is particularly important for children and adolescents.

  • Typically occurs more during the first half of the night.

  • SWS is crucial for feeling refreshed and alert the next day.

  1. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep:

  • REM sleep is characterized by rapid eye movements, increased brain activity, and muscle paralysis, except for the muscles involved in eye movement and breathing.

  • Dreams often occur during this stage, which can be vivid and emotionally intense.

  • It's believed to be important for memory consolidation, learning, and emotional processing.

  • Heart rate and breathing become irregular during REM sleep.

  • REM sleep typically occurs in cycles throughout the night, becoming longer and more prominent as the night progresses.


So WHY is sleep such a big deal, especially for those who are active?


Stage 3 NREM Sleep is a really important stage of sleep. It's crucial for athletes because it's when the body releases human growth hormone (HGH), which aids in tissue repair, collagen synthesis, and muscle recovery. This plays a key role in recovering muscle damage after training sessions.


Overall, the sleep cycle, encompassing both NREM and REM sleep stages, is crucial for maintaining optimal physical health, cognitive function, and emotional resilience. Disruptions to the normal sleep cycle, such as insomnia, sleep apnea, or sleep deprivation, can have detrimental effects on overall well-being and for the purpose of this post, negative implications for those who are active...leading to lack of recovery and inability to progress within training.

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