8 Reasons Why You Should Sleep Like an Olympian

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by Alejandra "Alex" Ruani — Get free science updates here.

Photo: OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images

8 Reasons Why You Should Sleep Like an Olympian

It’s been suggested that world class athletes sleep an average of 520 minutes per night – 8.75 hours a night. That is approximately an hour more sleep than what researchers Backeland and Hartmann found for the average person. Their work shows that the average person sleeps 7.5 hours per night.

Here’s 8 reasons why you should sleep for an extra hour:

1. You Will Gain A Competitive Edge

“We know that sleep loss is going to create significant detriments in performance,” says Mark Rosekind, PhD, president of Alertness Solutions and a former NASA scientist. “There are lab studies that show that if you’re an eight-hour sleeper and you get six hours of sleep, that two-hour difference can impact your performance so that it equates to how you would perform if you had a 0.05 blood-alcohol level.” Whether you have a big game coming up, or you are hoping to beat your best marathon time, the key to training may be more sleep, not more practice. There’s compelling research to suggest that just one extra hour of sleep can boost your athletic performance. In fact, an extra hour on a regular basis is even better.

2. You Will Be More Focused

Deep sleep is closely linked to learning a new skill, memory and focus. Just like with cognitive memory, sleep seems to solidify muscle memory as well. According to James B. Maas, Ph.D. and author of the book Sleep To Win, the big benefits don’t take place until somewhere between the seventh and eighth hour of sleep, an hour many exercisers are missing out on. Sleep deprivation has well-studied negative effects on reaction times — and even a single night of sleep deprivation can slow quick response times.

3. You Will Activate Beneficial Genes

A small experiment conducted by curious BBC journalists divided a small pool of volunteers into two groups. For a week, one group slept for six and a half hours a night while the other slept for seven and a half. During the second week, the two groups swapped, and researchers administered a number of blood tests and cognitive tasks. The blood tests revealed that around 500 genes were switched on or off by that additional hour of sleep — for the better. The changes in genetic expression due to extra sleep helped protect against diabetes, cancer, inflammation and stress, the BBC reported.

4. You Will Eat Less

Both experts and scientific data have long connected lack of sleep with increased hunger and weight gain. A 2012 study quantified the phenomenon. The findings, presented last month at an American Heart Association meeting, suggest that otherwise healthy people may eat more than 500 additional calories a day when they are sleep deprived

5. Your Muscles and Bones Will Thank You

Sleep is a critical time for cell regeneration and repair in the body. During non-REM stages of sleep, cell division and regeneration actually becomes more active than during waking hours. Insufficient sleep, on the other hand, can hinder muscle recovery. Researchers speculate that deep sleep helps with athletic performance because this is the time when growth hormone is released. Growth hormone stimulates muscle growth and repair, bone building and fat burning, and helps athletes recover. This means that sleep deprivation slows the release of growth hormone.

6. Your Heart Will Be Happier

A 2008 study showed that adults who slept for seven hours a night had a 33% lower chance of having calcium deposits build up in their arteries than adults who slept for only six hours a night. The boost to overall heart health that provides is akin to dropping 16 points in systolic blood pressure. A 2012 study found that in short-sleeping people with hypertension or prehypertension, getting an extra hour of sleep significantly decreased their blood pressure levels.

7. Your Mind Will Be Calmer

Sleep and stress have a tangled relationship. Both are dangerous to healthy immune function when we don’t get enough (sleep), or have too much (stress, anxiety and worry time). Stress can interfere with sleep. In fact, worry ranks as the most common cause of sleeplessness among adults. But lack of sleep can also affect mood and make us more susceptible to stress and anxiety.

8. Your Immunity Will Get Stronger

“People intuitively know that when their sleep patterns are disturbed, they are more likely to get sick,” study author Erol Fikrig, professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Medicine, said in a press release. “It does appear that disruptions of the circadian clock influence our susceptibility to pathogens.” If you are exhausted, you will be more susceptible to picking up a bad cold. Another great reason to make sleep a priority, especially if you want to stay healthy.

To conclude, if you want to perform like an Olympian, you should sleep like one. An extra hour in your nightly rest is a good place to start.

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