You’re working out a lot, cranking it for all it’s worth. You’re intense. It’s almost like you’re going 24/7. You don’t have time for sleep because you’re just too damn intense! Heck, there’s even the theme from Rocky playing in your head when you’re working out because that’s how awesome you are. And with so much intensity taking up so much of your time you’re sure to get in amazing shape, right?
Nope, because one of the most important parts of a complete program is getting enough sleep. So if you’re redefining intense and getting little sleep in the process you’re doing yourself more harm than good.
In “Sleep and Recovery – An applicable approach to a lifestyle of recovery and rest for athletes” (because all published academic type papers need at least 15 words in the title) by John Underwood who is the Director of Life of an Athlete – Human Performance Project, Underwood examined the “… absolute importance of of sleep in relationship to training, training effect, recovery and performance” and came to the conclusion that sleep is good … in fact it’s necessary … in further fact the higher the level you perform at the more sleep you need.
Without getting too deep into the science, here’s the Reader’s Digest Condensed Version:

A Lot Is Going On When You Sleep

Your central nervous system has a significant role in your achieving optimum performance. It effects performance potential, functioning skills, muscles and reflexes, and more. For the central nervous system to do all that, and to do it well, you have to be well rested. In tests, athletes who had minimal sleep (6 hours or less for 4 days) couldn’t focus as well, were not motivated enough, and had a significant decrease in physical performance. Sort of like being on massive doses of Xanax only not as fun.
When the body does not get enough sleep it does not produce an adequate amount of testosterone which is needed to build muscle. To quote the report, “The majority of muscle repair and growth occurs during sleep when hormones are released. Without adequate sleep, muscle gain is greatly diminished.” Plus, in the first hour to hour and a half of sleep there is a huge release of human growth hormone which is essential for growth. When we don’t get enough sleep not only do we not allow our body to optimally build muscle we also lose the ability to think clearly, lose coordination, and prevent our organs from recovering. In addition, sleep also helps you recover from various forms of stress. For every two hours an athlete is awake and stressed they will need one hour of sleep to recover from that stress.
Studies of athletes who increased their sleep levels improved their mood which effected their drive and motivation, increased their energy levels, and improved their performance. One such study of the Stanford University NCAA Men’s and Women’s Swim Teams showed marked improvement when they consistently slept 10 hours a night with many of the team members setting personal, school, and NCAA records.
Look at sleep as a part of your training. Incorporate it in your schedule just like you do your workouts. Have a set time for bed and schedule for enough hours for adequate sleep.

You Need Consistent Proper Sleep

Using the example of the Stanford Swim Teams, they didn’t just sleep 10 hours only on the night before events, they did it for a consistent period of time. It turns out that the body acts a lot like you do when your bank gives you credit cards with high unsecured credit limits. (I’m looking at you J.P. Morgan!)  If you rack up a bunch of debt you’re going to struggle to pay it back. And just like your bank account collapsing your body works the same way. If you have a lot of times where you don’t get enough sleep your body basically builds up “sleep debt”,  and sleep debt, even if you do have times where you sleep enough, will still have a negative effect on your performance.
Also, don’t sabotage yourself from getting enough sleep at the right times. Partaking of drugs and alcohol can prevent you from achieving healthy sleep. They decrease blood flow to the brain causing all manner of deficiencies. Excess caffeine (coffee and energy drink) intake, if it exceeds certain levels, can also have adverse effects.

Create a Positive Sleep System

Here is a list from Underwood’s study on how to create a positive sleep system.
• Sleep in a comfortable bed
• Create a technological sundown by turning off electronics 90 minutes
prior to bed
• Avoid exposure to bright lights, LCD or Blue light from TV laptops or
• Move the clock out of sight
• No caffeinated drinks after dinner
• No sugar after dinner
• No drug use. Alcohol and Marijuana
• Drink plenty of water
• No physical stress prior to sleep
• Don’t use stimulants prior to sleep
• Don’t use stimulants to attempt to overcome deficits of sleep debt
• Don’t go to bed on a full stomach
• Don’t go to bed on an empty stomach
• Drink 10 oz. of casein protein before bed for maximum muscle gain if
training occurred during the day
• Keep your bedroom completely dark, quiet and cool (68-72 degrees)
• Take brief naps ( less than 30 minutes) to obtain additional sleep during
the day if drowsy.
• Maintain a consistent schedule
• Consider sleep a part of the “training regimen”
You can go here to read Underwood’s report in its entirety.