I am asking myself, how does an optimized sleep schedule for a good fitness life look like. What is so "optimized" and how important the sleep schedule is?
An optimized sleep schedule is one which is a) the right length and b) starts and ends at the same time every day. Following is an explanation of both requirements and why they are important.
- Having a sleep schedule which is the right length
Your sleep cycle can be roughly broken down into two parts, deep sleep and REM (rapid eye movement). It is during deep sleep that your body heals itself, for example repairing muscle damage from a hard workout. During REM sleep, the brain forms memories and regenerates itself. Both physical healing and cognitive ability are important for a recovering athlete. So you need to sleep long enough that both your body and mind can recover each night. Most adults need between 7.5 and 8.5 hours of sleep each night to be fully rested.
- Sleeping and waking up at the same time every day
Research has shown that when you go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, your body actually gets more efficient at sleeping. This means that your body can do more healing (physical and psychological) in less time. For example, consider a person who needs 9 hours of sleep each night to feel rested when sleeping at random times every day. After adjusting his sleep schedule to begin and end at the same time every day, he might only need 8 hours to feel fully rested. Of course, the need to get a sufficient amount of sleep ties in with the first bullet point above.
FYI, I took James Maas' course on sleep psychology when I was a student at Cornell.
Here is a good reference from Maas covering the basics of sleep science which you can read if you still have further interest.
Consistency is the key with sleep. Shoot for 8 hours a night, give or take an hour and make a point of going to bed and waking up at similar times each day. If you can squeeze in a 30-60 mins nap during the day it is a bonus. I make a point of keeping my eyes out of the light (eg. television, computer screen) a good hour or two before I go to bed. Light stimulates the brain and can make it harder to fall asleep. Keep your room as dark as possible and preferably a bit more on the cold side.