For athletes, routines are essential to their success. While routines can be curated to optimize sports performance, it’s important to acknowledge that human bodies have already established one: the circadian rhythm.
Think of the circadian rhythm as the internal clock that regulates sleep-wake patterns over a complete 24-hour period set by the rise and fall of the sun. Sunlight travels through the retina directly to the nerve canal that connects to the “circadian clock.” This signal triggers what sleep experts call the Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR). Simply put, the human body amplifies the secretion of cortisol 30-45 minutes after we wake up to keep us alert and start the day.
A healthy circadian rhythm promotes quality rest and easy wakefulness. This enhances the mind-body connection, a general understanding, and awareness that builds resilience, an essential for high-performing athletes.
Here are the perks:
- Stronger immune system
- Better decision-making
- Improved mood and emotional regulation
- Increased attention and focus
- Lower blood pressure
The best way to reset the internal clock and guarantee better athletic performance is by pursuing a lifestyle that promotes proper rest. Here are a few areas to start:
- Take naps before late afternoon and keep them short
- Get enough exercise daily (at least 20 minutes)
- Spend time outdoors in the natural light to boost wakefulness
However, if the circadian rhythm is disrupted, athletic performance can decline. An irregular sleep/wake pattern may result in lower-quality sleep, leaving players unprepared to perform their best. An irregular routine can negatively affect metabolic effectiveness and body temperature changes throughout the day. Over time, this may lead to weight gain, stress, and brain fog.
Multiple factors can cause desynchrony in the circadian rhythm, like daylight savings or far away travel destinations. For athletes, the main culprit is often jetlag. The higher the level of competition, the more likely (and more frequently) athletes will cross multiple time zones to compete. The signals (early or delayed) from the new environment confuse the circadian clock, causing sleeping problems and hormone fluctuation. Because sleep/wake patterns are set in accordance with the Sun, internal clocks will eventually acclimate to the new time zone.
For more in-depth tips on how to maintain healthy alignment, refer to our suggestions on sleep and nutrition by ACCEL’s in-house Registered Dietician, Alisha Parker.