Sleep actually consists of a series of stages that have different physiologic roles. The ability to cycle repeatedly through each stage with an adequate amount of time spent at each level is called “sleep efficiency” and serves as the goal when looking at the architecture of this process.
The two primary divisions of sleep are REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement). NREM is further divided into three other stages. Only 25% of total sleep time is spent in the REM stage.
During sleep, natural hormones are released in the body and enhance the physical recovery process. Among these are serotonin and growth hormone, the latter being a much publicized “performance enhancing drug” and subsequently a banned substance. Serotonin improves psychomotor performance. These factors alone can give an athlete a tremendous advantage in competition.
Adequate amounts of sleep are crucial to take full advantage of this hormonal production. Unfortunately, an athlete’s schedule that may include long trips, inconsistent sleeping conditions and erratic performance times are obstacles to sleep efficiency.
Dr. Setu Vora, a physician on the Backus Hospital Medical Staff specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders, advocates a simple approach when dealing with insufficient sleep in athletes.
“The best medication is no medication. The same discipline that athletes apply to their sports must also be applied to sleep. The bedroom should be used solely for sleep and an average of eight hours each night is the goal,” said Vora.
International athletes who must endure transatlantic travel should try to sleep on the flight. Earplugs and sleep masks can be helpful.
Adequate sleep, proper diet and a regular workout schedule is vital for athletes at any level.