skip navigation

Sleep, Wonderful Sleep

09/19/2017, 4:15pm CDT
By Sam Callan, USA Fencing Senior Manager, Coaching Education

Do you get enough sleep? Is the sleep you get good, high quality sleep? For too many people the answer to both questions is “no.” Sleep is essential for good health as well as positive athletic and academic performance. A lack of sleep or poor quality sleep is associated with many negative outcomes.

When it comes to health, a lack of sleep may be connected to an increased likelihood of getting sick. One study from UC Davis showed that subjects who slept fewer than five hours per night were more than four times more susceptible to catching a cold when exposed to the virus than those who slept seven or more hours. Sleep has also been associated with other immune system functions.

Similarly, when it comes to athletic performance, a survey of adolescents showed that those who slept fewer than eight hours per night were 1.7 times more likely to suffer an injury than those who slept greater than eight hours per night.

A study from Germany exhibited that sleep after learning a specific motor skill improved performance of that skill, proving that sleep may play a critical role in consolidating the learning of motor skills. In theory, if you are teaching a fencer a new technique or skill, having them take a nap after the lesson could improve retention. (But then I am very pro-nap!)

Academic performance is another area in which the evidence supports sleep improving memory. Better grades in school have been associated with a lack of sleepiness (sleepy students had poorer performances), good sleep quality and sufficient sleep duration. Another German study showed that sleep after learning vocabulary aided in recall of the newly learned words.

Sleep has an effect on mood as well. We all know people who seem irritable when they do not get enough sleep. But not only is the amount of sleep important, but the amount of uninterrupted sleep is crucial as well. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University and Walter Reed Army Medical Center report that sleep disruptions may be more detrimental to positive mood than getting fewer hours of sleep. In the study, the subjects were either kept awake to shorten sleep or were awaken during sleep. In both cases, the subjects slept the same amount of time in total. The people who had discontinuous sleep reported a worsened mood.

The question that often comes up is how much sleep do you need? The National Sleep Foundation offers the following recommendations:

  • Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours each day
  • Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours each day
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours each day
  • Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours each day
  • School age children (6-13): 9-11 hours each day
  • Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours each day
  • Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours each day
  • Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours each day
  • Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours each day

So how do you make sure you get a good night’s sleep?

First, you should collect some baseline data for two weeks on your sleep quantity and quality. This can be done with a log or a device that measures sleep. Then, once you are aware of your sleep patterns, try some of these strategies for getting more sleep or better sleep:

  • If you are not getting enough sleep, one strategy is to extend nighttime sleep by 15 minutes every few nights until you are getting sufficient sleep
  • Create a good sleep environment by having a cool (~18 degrees C/64 degrees F), dark and comfortable room that is devoid of distractions (think screens)
  • Needless to say, but I will, it should be a quiet place
  • Choose bedding and clothing that are loose and comfortable and do not increase body temperature
  • Set a consistent bedtime and waking time. As you get ready for bed, reduce ambient light and the use of devices such as phones or tablets, especially in the hour or so before bedtime. In addition, restrict caffeine use after lunch (I know I lost a lot of you there) and limit alcohol use later in the evening[1]
  • Turn off screens (TV, tablets, phones, etc.)
  • Use the bed only for sleep
  • Whenever possible do intense training sessions in the morning. Some people have trouble falling asleep after intense evening workouts
  • Avoid overhydrating before sleep. In one report out of Australia, a common reason for athletes to wake up during the night was to use the bathroom
  • Use relaxation techniques before bed such as hot showers or baths or deep breathing exercises

A common problem is waking up after falling asleep. It can be frustrating to look at the clock to see it is 2 a.m. What often happens is you awaken and then get frustrated because you are awake. Focus on relaxation rather than sleep; relaxation can still help to rejuvenate you. If, after 15 minutes you have not fallen back to sleep, get out of bed and do something that is NOT stimulating, such as reading a book, not a tablet. Keep the lights dim as too much light can awaken you.

Here is your homework assignment (there will not be a test though): give some of these sleep tips a try to see what works for you. See if you are more alert during fencing lessons and maybe you start to beat your rival. Hopefully you will be getting more and/or better sleep and be able to be more productive and lead a healthier life!



[1] While it is commonly thought that alcohol helps sleep, its effects are more detrimental in that alcohol disrupts the deep sleep we really need. So, yes, you might fall asleep quickly following a drink, but you likely will awaken feeling tired and not having gotten a full night of rest.

Tag(s): Blog