Sleep can improve athletic performance

The most potent way to heal injured tissues and rejuvenate multiple organ systems is not a new wonder drug or expensive supplement, it’s sleep. Sufficient amounts of sleep are crucial for outstanding human performance, especially in athletes.

Sleep actually consists of a series of stages that have different physiologic roles. The ability to cycle repeatedly through each stage with an adequate amount of time spent at each level is called “sleep efficiency” and serves as the goal when looking at the architecture of this process.

The two primary divisions of sleep are REM (rapid eye movement) and NREM (non-rapid eye movement). NREM is further divided into three other stages. Only 25% of total sleep time is spent in the REM stage.

During sleep, natural hormones are released in the body and enhance the physical recovery process. Among these are serotonin and growth hormone, the latter being a much publicized “performance enhancing drug” and subsequently a banned substance. Serotonin improves psychomotor performance. These factors alone can give an athlete a tremendous advantage in competition.

Adequate amounts of sleep are crucial to take full advantage of this hormonal production. Unfortunately, an athlete’s schedule that may include long trips, inconsistent sleeping conditions and erratic performance times are obstacles to sleep efficiency.

Dr. Setu Vora, a physician on the Backus Hospital Medical Staff specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders, advocates a simple approach when dealing with insufficient sleep in athletes.

“The best medication is no medication. The same discipline that athletes apply to their sports must also be applied to sleep. The bedroom should be used solely for sleep and an average of eight hours each night is the goal,” said Vora.

International athletes who must endure transatlantic travel should try to sleep on the flight. Earplugs and sleep masks can be helpful.

Adequate sleep, proper diet and a regular workout schedule is vital for athletes at any level.

Too much exercise can cause muscle breakdown

Last week, 13 University of Iowa football players were hospitalized for a condition known as rhabdomyolysis. This condition results from an extreme breakdown of muscle fibers and complications caused by the circulation of the breakdown products.

Rhabdomyolysis generally results from muscle injury. Trauma is typically the most common cause of rhabdomyolysis. Other causes include genetic conditions, dehydration, medications, supplements, seizures, heatstroke, vascular insufficiency, severe exertion or any combination of these.

There are two types of muscle, smooth or involuntary muscles and striated or voluntary muscles. Muscles consist of a complex system of filaments that contract and relax in response to impulses from the nervous system.

Striated muscles are the engines that drive the movement of joints. Like all engines they rely on a fuel source to continue working. If the demand placed on muscles exceeds the availability of nutrients, the fibers “lock up” and cramp. If the imbalance continues, muscle fibers begin to break down.

When muscles break down, proteins and enzymes are released into the bloodstream. Among these enzymes is creatine kinase (CK). The concentration of CK can be measured in a blood sample and indicates the degree of muscle breakdown. CK also appears in various forms that indicate what types of muscles have been injured.

In rhabdomyolysis, myoglobin is among the breakdown products. When high concentrations of this protein are emitted, urine develops a reddish discoloration. If high levels persist, kidney failure will result.

Treatment consists of intravenous infusion of fluids and renal dialysis if necessary.

In the case of the Iowa athletes, it is believed that extreme exertion as part of an offseason workout was the cause. One player reported having to perform 100 squat repetitions with 240 pound weights.

Physical exercise is a big step toward good health, but as 13 Iowa football players have discovered, moderation is essential.