And the most important nutrient is...... sleep
Pop quiz: Name one nutrient (thing you could eat) or habit (thing you could do) that could dramatically enhance athletic performance.
What is your response? Magnesium? It does enhance muscle recovery. Protein? It certainly is needed to build muscle. Stretching? You do need flexibility to move well. The list could go on and on. But would you have said sleep?
I typically get about 6 hours of sleep a night. I've always felt that was a reasonably healthy amount. If I sleep more than that, I start to feel like I'm wasting precious time sleeping when I could be more productive. However, in the most recent ESPN magazine issue I received in the mail, there was an article on sleep that completely changed my views on this matter.
Ten years ago, there was a study conducted on sleep at Stanford University. This study examined the impact sleep had on college students' brains. Some of the test subjects happened to be on the swim team. During the portion of the study where students were required to get more sleep than normal, these athletes all reported that they set new personal bests. This lead to further studies done on whether or not sleep could boost athletic performance. These studies all indicated the same answer: YES
It turns out that sleep is crucially important to the body. During sleep, the body heals and repairs itself, builds muscle, and even improves brain functioning (makes me wonder what my GPA would have been had I not pulled so many all-nighters).
So how much sleep do we actually need? From research, it appears that 8-10 hours of sleep is the magic window that will boost cognition and athletic performance.
After reading the ESPN article, I've decided to do my own little experiment. I'm trying to get 10 hours of sleep a night for one whole week to see if that makes a difference in my life. So far, my biggest issue is that I literally can't stay asleep for 10 hours. I automatically wake up after 7 hours of sleep. It's as if I'm so sleep deprived that my body can't handle the extra sleep the same way a person fasting from food couldn't handle eating a Thanksgiving meal immediately after the fasting period is over. I'm secretly hoping that after a solid week of sleeping 10 hours a night, I'll hit the weight room and discover that I'm as strong as the Incredible Hulk and as smart as Einstein. If it turns out that the only changes I can see is that I'm less stressed and more joyful, I'll gladly settle for that too.