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by Jim Miller MD

March 9, 2009

Overrated? Never! Underachieved? Almost always! Sleep is the third component to recovery and performance. This follows hydration and nutrition that were featured in the first two medical shorts. Sleep is also restorative. Not only does it refresh your intellectual function, but it also allows the muscles to recharge, uninterrupted, for the next performance challenge. Sleep enhances reaction times, endurance performance, and power performance. Not too shabby when all you have to do is lay there.

There is a catch, as you would guess. You have to have quality sleep and you have to have enough of it. It is a complete myth when someone tells you that they are fully recharged after 4-5 hours of sleep. The human brain goes through sleep cycles that include several stages of sleep, including REM (dream state) and deep sleep, as well as other intermediate stages. All of them are important to improve your daytime athletic and intellectual performance.

Individuals differ as to how many cycles they ideally need and how long a full cycle takes, but each person can tell you, if they are honest. I usually ask the Masters athlete when they would wake up without an alarm at the beach without any interruptions of any kind. The answer may be alarming (pun intended). In general, it is around 8 hours, but there are some that may be as low as 7 or as high as 10. As we age, the effectiveness of our sleep cycles tends to diminish. So it may be expected that, as adults, we may need more restorative sleep.

Address the issues that awaken you with your practitioner. Common interruptions include bathroom stops and medication dosing. It is well know that Melatonin is a common mediator of sleep in the brain and that this diminishes as we age. Many find that the use of over-the-counter Melatonin assists sleep patterns with aging. You have to give Melatonin at least 4-6 months to see if it will help you and you need to clear its use with your practitioner, to avoid a medication interaction.

Sleep problems quickly become obvious. If you are swimming multiple practices per week and going to work and you are one of those 9 hour sleep creatures, where does that fit in? The answer is planned time management. What happens if you become sleep deprived, which is really easy to do on a demanding home and work schedule? Well, let's start with poor athletic performance, poor recovery, sub-par work performance, grumpy athlete with a short temper...........and that is just for starters! Now we have the question, which I posed last time. Is it over training or under-fueling or sleep deprivation? Can lack of appropriate hydration, nutrition and/or sleep result in pushing an athlete to an over-trained and unfulfilled state? You know the answer now. YES!