• Luke Nelson

Sleep to Perform: How to improve your sleep

OK so you’ve read our previous article on why sleep is important, how much you need to get, and the detrimental effects that decreased sleep quality can have on health and performance (link here), and you’ve realised “hmmm I could be better, but how do I improve it??”. Well in this article we will discuss ways to improve your sleep.

If you would rather watch the video of this topic, watch below

Routine

  • Keep the same sleep/wake time: when it comes to sleep, our brains like consistency. Try and go to bed and wake at a similar time throughout the week.

  • What about sleep-ins?? Unfortunately having a longer sleep on the weekend can throw out your body’s normal sleep routine, so try and keep some consistency on the weekend as well.

  • Take a shower: having a shower or bath before bedtime can help you sleep by elevating and then lowering your core body temperature, which prepares your body for sleep.


Ditch the electronic distractions

  • Avoid the use of electronic devices for at least 1 hour before bedtime: these produce blue light, and have been shown to inhibit the secretion of melatonin, leading to disturbed circadian regulation of sleep.


  • To help reduce blue light exposure on your mobile device, the latest iPhone has a night shift function under settings/display & brightness. For your laptop and desktop computers, you can use a free program f.lux which calculates sunrise and sunset and automatically adjusts your screen brightness. The other alternative is blue light blocking sunglasses

  • A recent study on adolescents found that frequent use of technology at bedtime was associated with: 15-60mins less sleep per night, greater difficulty in “switching off” at bedtime and frequent users of social media at bedtime averaged 60mins less sleep per night [1].

  • Try and avoid any mentally demanding tasks in the lead up to bedtime: reading a book is a good way to wind down.

Avoid stimulants

  • Caffeine is a stimulant, and in one study consuming caffeine 6 hours before bedtime was shown to reduce total sleep time by 1 hour [2]

  • Also avoid alcohol after 5pm: Whilst alcohol can help put you to sleep, it actually impairs restorative sleep, hence why you will feel tired the day after a few too many drinks.


Bedroom environment

  • Cool: having a room that is too hot or too cold will affect your ability to sleep. it has been found that around 16 to 18 degrees Celsius is the ideal room temperature (also depends on what bed covering you use).

  • Dark: try and remove or cover ANY light in your room, darkness triggers the brain to slow down and stimulates the production of melatonin.

  • No watching TV, using laptops or eating in bed. Keep the bedroom for sleep!!

Scheduling of training

  • Athletes often report worse and disrupted sleep the night before an early morning training session [3]

  • Try not to sacrifice sleep in order to train. If you need to train early, ensure you get to bed early, and try and keep the same sleep/wake times throughout the week (as mentioned above)

  • A 2014 study on swimmers found that on training days, swimmers averaged almost 2 hours less sleep per night [4]


Napping

  • Sleeping during the day for short bursts under 40mins can help your body catch up on missed sleep.

  • Ensure however that you don’t nap after 5pm, as it can impair your ability to sleep at night.

  • In a recent study, endurance runners who slept less than 7 hours sleep per night and took an afternoon nap, showed an improved running performance [5]

  • Try a “nappachino”: if you tend to feel groggy after a nap, try having a coffee just before you nap. Then when you wake up, the caffeine will kick in and help reduce sleepiness.


Exercise!

Exercise can increase the duration and quality of sleep by boosting the production of serotonin in the brain and decreasing levels of cortisol, the stress hormone [6]. However, exercise in moderation, as over training has been linked to poor sleep.



Supplementation

There are many supplements that can assist with sleep, including magnesium, 5 HTP, melatonin, theanine, GABA, tryptophan. It is important to speak to your health practitioner before taking these to find out if they are suitable for you


What if you can’t get to sleep??

  • So you are lying there staring at the roof with the mind racing, how can you get back to sleep?

  • Breathing and mindfulness: concentrate on slow relaxed breathing, or try mindfulness meditation

  • Listen to relaxing music

  • Do NOT look at your clock or phone!

Other causes

Of course there are many other issues that can lead to sleep disturbance (including musculoskeletal pain and breathing issues), and you should seek the advice of a health professional to find the cause, and then solution for your sleep issues.


So hopefully you can now use this information to help you improve the quality & quantity of your sleep, leading to improved performance! For further assistance, please don't hesitate to contact us!

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