Money and time are two finite resources affecting us each day. We struggle to meet the demands of family, work, community, and our endurance training. Busy endurance athletes often forgo the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep required for optimal recovery to squeeze in another commitment compared to their team sport peers. The choice to cut sleep time doubles an athletes risk of injury (Milewski et al. 2015) and leads to decreased mental, emotional, and physical performance as we lose the important balance between recovery and training. Recovery of our body systems is promoted by hormonal activity as we sleep. Reductions in hormone secretions at night leads to decreased immune function, recovery, muscle and bone growth, as well as, metabolism.
In 2011 researchers examined the impact of sleep duration on 2 consecutive days of run trials, one interval and one distance trial (Skein et al. Medicine Sci Sp Ex). Authors reported decreased muscle glycogen (stored fuel in muscle) storage after a poor night's sleep compared to more rested athletes. This decreased storage lead to slower performance on the upcoming run trials and these athletes also reported worsened moods and higher levels of stress. Similar results are seen in both endurance and weight training studies.
Each of us will have to make decisions on time management each day, but athletes should place an emphasis on the quantity and quality of sleep each night to maximize both recovery and performance. Newer research is also examining the benefits of a "power nap" for 30 minutes after lunch each day. This nap may help combat the loss of sleep hours at night and improve mental and physical performance in the sleep deprived athlete.