Intense Workouts Can Cause Fatigue But Actually Disrupt Sleep Patterns

As the Spring sports season begins, young athletes and their teams are ramping up their activity with longer and more intense workouts. Getting back into shape requires extra hours of tough training causing physical and mental fatigue. A good night’s sleep is vital to aid in recovery of tired muscles and frazzled brains. Unfortunately, strenuous exercise can actually keep athletes awake at night according to a new study from Loughborough University.

To understand how fatigue can actually prevent sleep, Dr. S.C. Killer and her colleagues studied 13 elite cyclists. For nine days, their training was cranked up by 2.5 times over their normal challenging baseline. To set a baseline, each cyclist wore a wristband that monitored their sleep for five nights prior to the increase in workload.

In addition to tracking their sleep, the cyclists also had their diets, mood and aerobic performance recorded. Some of the cyclists were also given a higher carb diet to find out if that would help with their sleep.

The researchers confirmed through the data that the cyclists’ sleep efficiency deteriorated significantly through the nine days, along with their mood and day over day performance. The athletes were definitely more tired and actually spent more time in bed each night trying to recover. The minutes to fall asleep and their quality and quantity of shut-eye was worse their their baseline.

The research has been published in the Journal of Sports Sciences.

"Sleep efficiency was significantly reduced during the intensified training period,” concluded the research team. “The cycle of successful training must involve overload to a state of acute fatigue, followed by a period of rest. The results of such training are positive adaptations and improvements in performance. However, if overloaded training is not followed by sufficient rest, overreaching may occur."

The higher carb diet did help a little bit with that group recording some better sleep hours. 

Either way, athletes in training definitely need their Z’s. The research team suggests working in more quick naps during the day to counteract poor nighttime slumber.

“With sleep and passive rest providing an important form of recovery, athletes undergoing such programmes should plan ahead with their coaches to ensure sleep is optimised. Strategies to enhance sleep during these times may include improving sleep hygiene before bedtime, ensuring adequate time in bed and incorporating time to nap into the day routine.”

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Dan Peterson is a recovering sports dad who is fascinated with sports science research, skill development and the athlete’s brain. He has written over 400 science-based articles across the Web and consults with parents, coaches and young players to help them understand the cognitive side of sports. You can visit him at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental and at @DanielPeterson.

Release Date: Apr 04 2016

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