Let's sleep on it!

How many times have you thought 'well I can catch up on sleep later'?
I get it; family time, work, training, social obligations, that new episode of Narcos (if you're not watching it you should be) and all of a sudden, it’s midnight and your alarm is set for 4:30am. We ask so much of our bodies during the day why do we expect them to perform and carry on illness and injury free with less than five hours of sleep a night? I can preach until I'm blue in the face and many of you still won't make it a priority. I've written articles on the dangers of inadequate sleep and how it raises cortisol, facilitates weight gain, increases your likelihood of having heart disease or a stroke, kills your sex life and so on and so on. But what about sport – how does it hinder performance?
There are two big areas where a lack of sufficient sleep will hurt your ability to train and race to the best of your potential; physical fatigue and mental fatigue. 

Physical fatigue shows up in the form of tired or injured muscles, a lack of power or speed, irregular blood pressure (higher or lower heart rates), the inability to access glycogen stores in competition and a slow rate of recovery.
Mental fatigue may be an even greater performance limiter. When you are mentally exhausted studies have demonstrated that endurance performance goes down, your rate of perceived exertion goes up (the normal training load seems infinitely harder), cognitive performance goes down (poor focus, slower reflexes, less oxygen pumping to muscles, diminished capacity to “push it”) and lastly, you run a higher risk of overreaching.
What about sleep the night before your race? It happens to all of us; nerves are high, excitement and adrenaline are surging, and you're doing a mental checklist of everything you have to do in the morning before your race. Here are some strategies I use to get back to sleep: stay out of your head, make relaxation (not sleep) your goal, do a quiet non-stimulating activity (calming music, deep breathing, reading a book) and avoid bright light (TV, phone, computer).
Give your body what it needs – 7-8 hours of quality sleep every night. If you can sneak them in, take a power nap in the afternoon for 15-20 min. The week leading up to a race make sleep your #1 priority... you'll thank me later!