Sleep, Recovery, and Athletic Performance

Sleeps effect on The Central Nervous System (CNS)

The central nervous system (CNS) controls most functions of the body and mind. It consists of two parts: the brain and the spinal cord. The brain is the center of our thoughts, the interpreter of our external environment, and the origin of control over body movement.” The CNS is essentially our governing body for our entire system. It is responsible for how fast our body can respond to external stimuli. Even a 10% decrease in the rate at which we respond to an external load can result in a significantly impaired result on a lift or poor mechanics during a deadlift.

Test your CNS before you attempt a PR

One of the best ways to know if your CNS is fried is to test your vertical leap each day. If you are significantly off your PR then you know this might not be your best day to test a max or it could be a good day to take things a little easier in the gym.

How Lack of Sleep Can Lead to Higher Risk of Injury

Research suggests that the ideal amount of sleep differs from person to person slightly, with women tending to need a touch more sleep than men. However, the research is consistent that the majority of the population does not get enough sleep. The suggested amount of sleep for everyone is from 7-8 hours a night for optimum performance. Many professional sports teams suggest their athletes get 10+ hours of sleep in order to optimally perform in their given sport. Multiple studies have shown significant improvements across multiple sports, from faster times in the pool for swimmers, to better shooting performance on the court. When high performance athletes can get 10 hours of sleep, it is equivalent to giving them high level performance enhancing drugs.

Research has shown that pulling just one all-nighter can impair reaction times up to 300%, and lack of sleep has been shown to be more dangerous than drinking and driving.

In a study in 2014, researchers found a statistically significant correlation between sleep deprivation and the incidence of injury during athletic practice or events. One can theorize that this is due to slower reaction times and the bodies inability to cope with external stimuli caused by an impaired central nervous system.

Sleep and Hormones

Have you ever felt that a few days of bad sleep isn’t a problem? Have you every thought that it is a badge of honor to put in the amount of work you do on a daily basis with limited sleep and terrible recovery? Think twice before you set yourself up for complete and utter hormonal burnout. Sleep is one of, if not the most important physiological factor affecting recovery from stress stimuli in everyday life. Yes, exercise is seen as a stress stimulus to the body and the body must recover from that given stress. Chronic sleep deprivation creates burnout and hormonal imbalances that will greatly affect athletic performance in the gym as well as everyday life.

Glucose (carbs) Tolerance

Just a few nights of poor sleep during the week can affect your glucose tolerance; meaning that you metabolize your food differently and will put on fat as opposed to using that glucose for fuel and burning it off. Research suggests that if you get less than 5-6 hours of sleep on average you are twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes. That is a scary thought and not uncommon in this day and age.

Leptin and Ghrelin

The fact that sleep affects your glucose tolerance is scary, but in combination with the fact that it also affects your leptin and ghrelin levels is even worse. It will decrease your leptin, an appetite surpassing hormone; and cause an increase in your ghrelin levels, a hunger hormone. This creates the perfect storm to throw your metabolism out of whack.


Sleep also has an effect on cortisol levels, creating chronically elevated levels of cortisol right before bed. This is the exact time that you do not want cortisol levels to be high and will result in increased belly fat. This also creates greater fluctuations in cortisol and will make it also dip to 6x lower than the normal range as well. Cortisol can be a good thing and help us deal with normal everyday stress like exercise, or a bear chasing you, but chronically high cortisol level can lead to burnout.  When you burnout your adrenals and can’t produce cortisol, you will wind up with an autoimmune disorder known as Addison’s disease that creates a host of other issues that can take years to dig out of.

Testosterone and Growth Hormone

What about testosterone? People getting less than 5 hours a night of sleep have significantly reduced levels of testosterone. It is critical in building strength, muscle mass, and increasing bone density as well as affecting sex-drive and other sex hormones.

Growth hormone is also released during deep sleep and promotes tissue repair and recovery to the bodies tendons, ligaments, and muscles. Many top athletes in the world have been popped for taking HGH in order to gain a competitive advantage. Athletes who get that extra sleep can gain a competitive advantage by the natural increase in HGH levels along with increased testosterone levels.

Getting adequate sleep in combination with eating right is like taking legal steroids because of the impact it has on our testosterone and growth hormone levels.

How do I improve my Sleep Habits?

  1. Turn off your iPhone an hour before bed. Turn it on do-not-disturb. This will still allow you to use your alarm clock, but you won’t be checking your Facebook status, Instagram, Twitter, Googling random cat videos :), etc…
  2. Eat high quality nutritious food and a balanced meal before bed. Do not be afraid of the carbs especially if you are a night-time workout person. These will help you increase your growth hormone levels and help promote better recovery.
  3. Download the headspace app and do some light mediation during the day to allow your system to decompress.
  4. Read a book before bed… but watch our for the bright light from electronic devices. This one is good because it is soft, yellow light and you can adjust the level of the light. 

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