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The Importance of Sleep and Recovery for Swimmers AND Coaches

In some circles of athletic training rest is seen as something only for the weak. “I’ll rest when I’m dead” is a common phrase heard said by super committed athletes. More recently, this attitude has been brought into question with more emphasis being put on athlete welfare as well as the growing pursuit of uncovering new knowledge in sport science.

It has been shown through years of research that rest and recovery is as vital a part of a training program as aerobic fitness or technical training. It underpins the basic principle of adaptation on a larger scale in the body; periods of prolonged work followed by periods of recovery leading to adaptation and therefore strengthening. Adequate recovery also helps to protect athletes from over training syndrome, something which can ruin an athletes love for their sport and wreck their season.

One key area to consider is the impact of sleep on growth and maturation. When asleep our body releases growth hormones. If athletes are not getting enough sleep then the levels of growth hormone released during the night simply won’t reach the required level for normal growth and development. This could lead to impaired performance for many years and also put an athlete at risk of not achieving their true potential.

Brain function during sleep is also a topic that has been researched and this can have useful implications regarding learning and skill development. Learning a new skill is enhanced when two periods of practice are broken by sleep. This happens through a mechanism called consolidation, when we sleep our brain continues to work and strengthen neural connections, ensuring athletes get enough sleep can therefore improve skill retention.

Having a healthy sleeping routine is so important for our athletes to enable them to continue to perform at a high level. It also crucial that coaches get enough sleep, as without it our body will not be able to cope with the job that we do. Here are a few ways that you can improve the quality of your sleep:

  1. Don’t consume caffeine after 2pm, caffeine can continue to have an effect on your body for up to 8 hours post consumption and this could then lead to you having issues going to sleep.

  2. Make your bedroom an “easy sleep” environment. Keep it cool and dark to fall asleep in. Remove TVs and mobile electronic devices from the bedroom, go and buy an actual alarm clock instead. Doing this helps with two things: a) Turning the bedroom into place to sleep rather than just a place to sit and work/socialise b) Increase the release of melatonin the chemical in the brain which promotes sleep

  3. Have a wind down routine that you follow prior to getting into bed, it doesn’t have to be complicated and long, just a few things you do every night before bed to help yourself relax. Over time simply doing these tasks will promote the brain to go into sleep mode.

  4. Have a consistent schedule - this can be difficult for swimmers/coaches/parents in our sport, getting up and going to bed at the same time every day. Get your body clock into a rhythm. It may be easier to run on a weekly schedule rather than a 24 hour schedule. Get up at consistent times for that day each week, go to bed at a consistent time for that day each week. Over time your body will get used to the routine and naturally be prepared to get up early or go to sleep at specific times.

  5. Don’t stress whilst in bed, this only makes it harder to get to sleep. Write a list of your stresses down in a notebook before bed to get things off your mind. Also try not to clock-watch if you are struggling to sleep,this only makes you stress about your sleep.

Sleep and recovery are important for everyone! Swimmers and coaches alike need to be able to operate at the top end of their limits every day. Looking after your well-being by caring about your sleep is a fundamental part of this. As coaches it can be easy to fall into poor sleep routines, it is vital we look after ourselves and give our athletes the best opportunity to succeed by securing the longevity of our own careers thus allowing us to get the most out of every minute we spend on deck. 

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