“If you don’t sacrifice for what you want, what you want becomes the sacrifice.” – Unknown
Athleticism was always core to my lifestyle, but when I decided to really push myself to reach my personal peak of fitness, this quote defined me. I stopped at nothing to reach my goals. I woke up early to run. I hit the gym after work. I ate the recommended balance of protein-fat-carbs for every meal. For months at a time, I didn’t look a single cookie in the eye.
And, yes, I got the results I wanted, but along the way, I got a good look at my own biggest weakness. In the drive to push harder, do better, and achieve more, I forgot to acknowledge the other side of the coin: my body’s need to REST. Once I acknowledged this aspect of my athleticism, sleep became an absolute core tool in my fitness quest.
Athletes usually excel when it comes to self-discipline, but are often notoriously under-indulgent when it comes to self-care. And nowhere is this failing more apparent than when it comes to sleep. It’s time to debunk these six super common and super WRONG sleep myths that most athletes believe.
1. “I only need 6 hours of sleep a night.”
On my journey to physical fitness, I was so disciplined. Excess disappeared from my life. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how wrong I was when I decided that my 8-hour sleep cycles were excessive. Scientists recommend 7-9 hours of sleep for most people, and for serious athletes, up to 10 or 11 hours are perfectly acceptable. Once I changed my schedule to accommodate more sleep, I saw huge lifts in performance.
The period after a workout is when the body builds muscle and burns fat. The secretion of human growth hormone during sleep can help with fat burning, muscle growth, and bodily repair. It means that good sleep is key to getting the most from a workout. I have made it a rule to go to bed an hour early on my heavy workout days, and I’m not afraid to sleep in.
2. “Naps just make me more tired.”
Along with a good, long sleep at night, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting sleep in short spurts during the day. Some nights, I just couldn’t sleep as much as I needed, but a 30-minute power nap in the middle of the day was game-changing. Multiple studies have shown that napping in short doses is extremely additive to cognitive performance, and can provide a boost when taken shortly before a match or workout session.
3. “I can’t outrun my age.”
I fully expected for a long time that as I got older, I would naturally decline in performance. I was thrilled to learn that professional athletes that consistently got enough sleep were able to remain in their league longer and had more consistent long-term performance. I’m not a professional athlete, but I can say confidently that after giving up the all-nighters and too-early wakeups of my youth, I’m stronger, faster, and in better shape now than I have ever been. Eventually, yes, age will catch up with us all, but sleeping better and longer can help me fight that decline and stay active longer.
4. “If I’m just careful I can avoid getting injured.”
Everyone makes mistakes, but nobody makes more mistakes than people who haven’t had enough sleep. In fact, all of my lasting aches and pains are directly related to injuries that happened when I was exercising without getting enough sleep. When we are fatigued, reaction times are slower and cognition is impaired, meaning we are less able to make good decisions quickly. Whether on the field or in the gym, a moment can make the difference in avoiding an injury. On a good night’s sleep, I perform at my best and safest levels.
5. “Athletic gear > sleep gear.”
Even at peak physical fitness, I used to wake up with aches, get overheated when I slept, or just struggle to sleep soundly and feel rested. For a long time, I just thought I was a fussy sleeper. I spent hundreds on back supports, braces, massagers, and foam rollers, but nothing seemed to work. Eventually, I realized that I was just sleeping on the wrong mattress. I did the research and asked around, and eventually decided to purchase the DreamCloud mattress. I have never looked back. It is high quality, it supports my body, it keeps me comfortable when I sleep, and I wake up refreshed and ready to go in the mornings.
For years I had been spending money on gear for sports and workouts, but neglecting the absolutely essential gear that helps me sleep well and perform even better. Every athlete should see their mattress as a core tool in their athletic toolbox. (And I highly recommend the DreamCloud mattress for all athletes. Check it out here.)