We've all felt it. That terrible feeling when your skates touch the ice, and instead of being excited to play, all you can think about is how tired you are. You know at that moment that you'd rather be in bed getting a few more ZZZs than on the sheet.
It doesn't matter if you're a young player at a tournament, playing in the NHL on a Saturday night of a back-to-back, or a men's league player pulling on your skates for an 8:45pm puck drop. We all need to focus on our sleep!
In today's article, we will discuss the Top 5 reasons why hockey players need to focus on their sleep. Then, at the end of the article, we'll offer a few suggestions for how to get more consistent sleep, night after night.
We don't say this for the shock effect, but sleep is a superpower. It's the ultimate performance-enhancing drug, and it's 100 percent free.
Here are the top five reasons hockey players need to ensure they're getting enough shut-eye.
# 1 - FOCUS - Hockey players need sleep to focus come game time.
It is often overlooked how important sleep is for a hockey player leading up to game time. Players view sleep as a recovery tool instead of a performance tool.
That's not true!
Cognitive function and focus are crucial aspects of hockey; without them, you'll forever make bad plays. Pinching when you should stay back, failing to pick up your man on the backcheck, or misreading a play are all common occurrences with lack of sleep.
Numerous studies have examined the negative impact of sleep deprivation on decision-making (1) and how generally cautious individuals begin to make impulsive and rash decisions. (2)
Although it can be difficult to juggle, you must make sleep a priority if you want to be able to perform night after night.
#2 - Injury Management
Most of us have probably heard the old saying "sleep it off" once or twice. Usually, after a late night of team bonding, but also when we come down with a cold.
It's a classic because there is a lot of truth to it. Sleep is one of the best things that we can do for recovery.
Nothing can be as frustrating as an injury, and the last thing you want to do is take time out from your desired activities. However, sleep is essential in recovering from any injury. Recent studies point to sleep as a key factor in helping the body heal quicker. The hormones released while sleeping help regulate inflammation and repair cells, allowing you to get back on the ice faster.
Sleep can also help to prevent nagging injuries from turning into season-ending ones. Good sleep hygiene, including keeping your sleep/wake cycle regular, will help reduce and diffuse damage caused by any injury before it becomes unmanageable.
#3 – Reaction Time
Reaction time is the period between a stimulus, like trying to tip a puck sent to the net or breaking up a stretch pass.
Hockey started as a fast-paced game and has only gotten faster year after year. In fact, chasingthepuck.com wrote an interesting article (3), and they estimated that Mcdavid is skating 1.17X faster than Lafleur in an in-game situation. That's no small number!
Pucks are also moving at roughly ten mph faster in the modern era, meaning if you're going to get a stick on it in front, you better be ready. Players must respond quickly to the opposing team, game changes, and their teammates' movements on the ice.
This makes reaction time an essential component of success on the ice. Studies have shown that lack of sleep can significantly slow down reaction time. (4)
A study on handball goalies showed both a decrease in reaction time and attention to detail following decreased sleep. Not a combo that you're looking for an elite player.
Getting enough quality rest will sharpen players' reflexes and help them to better process information so they can make swift decisions on the rink.
#4 – Muscle Gain/ Avoiding Muscle Loss
It wouldn't be a Gary Robert Performance article if we didn't spend at least a little time getting jacked. During the off-season, we're more focused on building muscle, but maintaining it is equally important, and sleep has a hand in both.
During sleep, the body produces hormones, such as testosterone and growth hormone, that aid in muscle repair and growth.. A lack of sleep can lead to decreased muscle mass, decreased muscle strength, and impaired muscle recovery, making it harder to reach your goals.
Several studies have shown a link between a lack of sleep and decreased muscle mass.
For example, a study published in the Journal of Sleep Research found that a week of sleep restriction led to decreases in muscle strength and size in healthy young men. Another study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that a single night of sleep deprivation led to a decrease in testosterone levels, which are important for muscle growth and maintenance.
Lastly, a study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that chronic sleep restriction over several weeks resulted in reductions in muscle size and strength, as well as increased muscle fatigue and decreased muscle endurance.
These studies highlight the importance of adequate sleep for maintaining and building muscle mass and the adverse effects of sleep deprivation on muscle growth and recovery.
Even from a nutrition perspective, Several studies have shown a link between a lack of sleep and decreased muscle mass.
For example, a study published in the Journal of Sleep Research found that a week of sleep restriction decreased muscle strength and size in healthy young men. (5)
Another study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that a single night of sleep deprivation decreased testosterone levels, which are super important for muscle growth and maintenance. (6)
A third study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that chronic sleep restriction over several weeks resulted in reductions in muscle size and strength, as well as increased muscle fatigue and decreased muscle endurance. (7)
These studies highlight the importance of adequate sleep for maintaining and building muscle mass and the negative effects of sleep deprivation on muscle growth and recovery.
Even from a nutrition perspective, sleep has an impact on muscle mass. Getting enough sleep helps to regulate the production of hormones, reverses protein breakdown, and increases amino acid oxidation, enabling your body to take full advantage of the nutrients you get from food. Plus, sleep helps your body create new proteins responsible for repairing those sore muscles you've been developing in the gym!
Sleep is critical if you're going to provide your body with the fuel it needs to stay healthy!
#5 – Mental Resiliency
Mario Lemieux once said, "Hockey is a tough physical game, and it always should be."
We tend to agree with Mr. 66, and if you're going to play tough on the ice, you need to be dialed in upstairs. It all starts in the mind!
We often think about a strong mindset as a mysterious superpower that some players have, and others don't, but everyone can develop it! Plus, physical actions - like nutrition and sleep - influence it.
Sleep is known to be one of the most important factors in influencing mental resiliency. During sleep, a person's brain processes and organizes the events and impressions encountered throughout the day, enabling us to become more resilient to unforeseen stress.
Through sleep, our brains can recover from daily stress by replenishing energy stores and repairing damaged neurons essential for mental toughness.
On the other hand, a lack of sleep can lead to increased stress and anxiety levels, decreased focus and productivity, and impaired decision-making and memory. Chronic sleep deprivation has also been linked to an increased risk of depression, anxiety disorders, and other mental health problems.
Sleep also helps regulate mood and emotions, which is essential for maintaining mental toughness. For example, a lack of sleep can increase irritability, frustration, and negative attitudes, making it harder to maintain a positive outlook and persevere in the face of adversity.
Tips to Better Sleep
#1 - Put Away The Phone
If you want to excel on the ice, limiting screen time before bed can help you do exactly that.
Screens, such as those on smartphones, laptops, and televisions, emit blue light, which can interfere with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Melatonin helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle and prepare the body for sleep.
Exposure to blue light before bedtime can trick the brain into thinking it is daytime, leading to decreased melatonin levels and making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. The bright and stimulating nature of screens can also increase alertness and cognitive activity, making it harder to relax and wind down before bed.
Limiting screen time before bed, such as by turning off screens at least an hour before bedtime, can help regulate the sleep-wake cycle and reduce the negative effects of blue light exposure. This can lead to improved sleep quality, increased sleep duration, and a more rested and refreshed feeling in the morning.
#2 - Consistent Sleep and Wake Up Times
Success in hockey is all about routine, and sleep is no different. Having a consistent bed and wake time can significantly impact the quality and duration of sleep.
Maintaining a regular sleep schedule helps regulate the body's internal biological clock, also known as the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm helps control the release of hormones, such as melatonin, that regulate the sleep-wake cycle.
Having a consistent bed and wake time also helps establish a regular sleep pattern, allowing the body to better prepare for sleep and wake up feeling refreshed. It also helps prevent sleep problems such as insomnia, as the body becomes conditioned to the sleep schedule.
Inconsistent sleep patterns, such as frequently changing bed and wake times, can disrupt the circadian rhythm and lead to difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking up feeling rested. It can also contribute to feelings of fatigue and sleepiness during the day, which can negatively impact overall health and well-being.
Of course, schedules change, and games can run late, but staying consistent during the week when you're practicing can help you wake up refreshed even after a late-night drive home.
#3 - Dark Cool Room
Having a cold, dark room can drastically improve the quality of your sleep. If you're sleeping in a hotel room on the road, pay special attention to temperature as they are often quite warm.
A cooler sleep environment can help regulate body temperature, essential for comfortable and restful sleep. A temperature between 60-67°F (15-19°C) is ideal for sleep.
Darkness is also important for sleep as it signals to the brain that it is time to produce melatonin, the sleep hormone. Light exposure, especially bright or blue light that we just mentioned, can inhibit melatonin production and make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Conversely, a completely dark room can help promote melatonin production, leading to a more restful and restorative sleep.