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In the past, I’ve brought up the importance of rest and recovery more than a few times. If you do a quick search on the Quick and DirtyTips website, you can easy find them. I have even interviewed the inventor of a device that specifically measures your recovery based on how well you have slept in comparison to how hard you have worked out. But despite my best efforts as a podcaster, blogger and coach, sleep still remains an elusive and often overlooked aspect of fitness. 

How Much Sleep Do We Need?

Way back in 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported that “seven is the new eight,” explaining that our bodies may need less sleep than what we had traditionally been told. What the Wall Street Journal failed to mention is the increased need for sleep in people who are exercising frequently, tearing down their muscle fibers with weight training, running or cycling, or even engaging in cognitively demanding tasks. (Yes, a stressful work day counts). If you are interested in having solid and consistent mental and physical performance, good sleep should be on the top of your list.

Let’s take a look at an infographic from an article on the website Fatigue Science called “Why Pro Athletes Sleep 12 Hours A Day” It’s for us fit folks who repeatedly engage in this type of body and brain stress. Here are a few highlights:

  • Usain Bolt, the fastest sprinter in the world said “Sleep is extremely important to me. I need to rest and recover in order for the training I do to be absorbed by my body.”
  • Roger Federer, a professional tennis player who is still at the top of his game at age 37 says “If I don’t sleep 11 to 12 hours a day, it’s not right.”
  • Steve Nash, Canada’s best basketball point guard said “For me, sleeping well could mean the difference between putting up  30 points and living with 15.”
  • Jarrod Shoemaker, professional triathlete: “Sleep is half my training.”
  • And, not included on that info graphic, triathlete and past podcast guest Bread Kearns said “when I was competing at the highest level, I often joked that half of my life was spent asleep.”

While many of us don’t function on the fitness level of those athletes, here are two big reasons why increased sleep is still crucial for people who exercise regularly:

  1. Your nervous system and brain cleans up cellular garbage when you sleep, allowing you to form memories, learn, and be cognivively sharp the next day.
  2. Your body and muscles repair themselves while you sleep. This process is enhanced by the hormone release that occurs wen you’re in your deep sleep phases.

If you exercise frequently, then even if you embrace the “seven is the new eight” idea, make sure those seven hours of sleep count and you don’t spend any of those precious hours tossing and turning. 

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