Six Reasons to Get Your ZZZs: The Connection Between Sleep & Athletic Performance

Getting enough sleep is important for your health, and imperative for an athlete's strong performance. While most Americans average six hours and 40 minutes of sleep per night, our body needs seven to nine hours to run at its best.

While our individual needs vary, the best way to determine how much sleep your body needs is to go to bed about the same time every night and track what time you wake up naturally, without an alarm. Your body knows best, listen to it.

Here are six of the most important reasons to be sure you get your ZZZs.

* Sleeping allows the body to rest, it stimulates muscle growth, bone building, and recovery, and is also responsible for the breakdown of fat.

* Not getting enough sleep can also slow your metabolism and ultimately cause you to gain weight, negatively affecting your performance. Those who get less sleep also tend to eat more due to changes in levels of the hormones leptin and ghrelin.

* Getting extra sleep, as much as ten hours per night, has been shown to increase alertness, improve mood and overall athletic performance.

* Not getting enough sleep has shown to have a negative affect on performance as well as mood, reaction times and cognitive function.

* Researchers believe that deep, quality, sleep is the time that your body releases growth hormone which stimulates muscle growth and repair, helps build bones, increases fat burning and helps athletes to recover. Conversely, by not getting enough sleep, the body slows the release of this important hormone.

* During times of sleep deprivation, it was discovered that cortisol (a stress hormone) levels were higher than the levels of athletes who received adequate sleep. This has been linked to memory impairment and slower recovery in athletes as well as age related insulin resistance.

In order to get enough sleep, consider the following:

* Several weeks before a big event or major competition, add extra sleep in your schedule by going to bed 30 minutes earlier and sleeping in 30 minutes later.

* If you can't get enough sleep in at night, consider scheduling a nap during the day.

* As an athlete, it should be easier for you to fall asleep at night, but if you're having difficulty, consider practicing mediation, or doing deep breathing exercises to help your relax just before bedtime.

K.C. Dermody has been an avid runner, hiker, and yoga enthusiast for twenty years, and as a trained yoga instructor she taught a variety of students from senior citizens to competitive athletes. She enjoys combining her passion for sports, emotional and physical well-being with her love of writing. Follow her at www.facebook.com/KCDermodyWriter or on Twitter: @kcdermody.

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