Sleep in Elite Athletes and Nutritional Interventions to Enhance Sleep

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Abstract

Sleep has numerous important physiological and cognitive functions that may be particularly important to elite athletes. Recent evidence, as well as anecdotal information, suggests that athletes may experience a reduced quality and/or quantity of sleep. Sleep deprivation can have significant effects on athletic performance, especially submaximal, prolonged exercise. Compromised sleep may also influence learning, memory, cognition, pain perception, immunity and inflammation. Furthermore, changes in glucose metabolism and neuroendocrine function as a result of chronic, partial sleep deprivation may result in alterations in carbohydrate metabolism, appetite, food intake and protein synthesis. These factors can ultimately have a negative influence on an athlete's nutritional, metabolic and endocrine status and hence potentially reduce athletic performance. Research has identified a number of neurotransmitters associated with the sleep-wake cycle. These include serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid, orexin, melanin-concentrating hormone, cholinergic, galanin, noradrenaline, and histamine. Therefore, nutritional interventions that may act on these neurotransmitters in the brain may also influence sleep. Carbohydrate, tryptophan, valerian, melatonin and other nutritional interventions have been investigated as possible sleep inducers and represent promising potential interventions. In this review, the factors influencing sleep quality and quantity in athletic populations are examined and the potential impact of nutritional interventions is considered. While there is some research investigating the effects of nutritional interventions on sleep, future research may highlight the importance of nutritional and dietary interventions to enhance sleep.

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