Improve your sleep; improve your performance

It’s true. There are people who can get by on 4-5 hours of sleep per night. I hate to break it to you, but odds are you’re not one of them. They’re the exception, not the rule. Most of us need 7-8 hours per night in order to be at our best. You can’t out-diet, out-supplement or out-caffeinate poor sleep habits.

If you’re an athlete, sleep is the number one thing you can use to get the most out of your workouts. If you aren’t following good sleep habits, it will catch up with you even if you don’t yet notice the effects. Why not take advantage of what is arguably the best performance enhancing thing we can possibly do? Especially considering it’s free!

Are you getting enough sleep?

Here are some signs you aren’t getting enough.

  • Difficulty recovering from your workouts
  • Reduced heart rate variability and/or increased resting heart rate
  • Frequent illness
  • Brain fog
  • Fatigue
  • Generalized body aches (not getting enough sleep often promotes inflammation)
  • Excessive caffeine intake
  • Sugar cravings–when we are tired, our body craves a quick energy hit (“Sugar, please!”)

Tips for better sleep

  • Develop a consistent sleep routine. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This allows your body to maintain a natural circadian rhythm, which improves the amount of deep, restorative sleep you get. This improves your recovery. The most restorative sleep occurs in the second half of an 8-hour sleep cycle. If your body is constantly adjusting its sleep cycle, as a result of inconsistent sleep patterns, you may be missing out on some of the deep sleep cycles.
  • Develop a consistent nightly routine that tells your body, “it’s almost time to go to sleep.” My routine is to take a shower about 30 minutes before bed. I follow that with light stretching, then reading in bed for about 10 minutes before I turn off the lights.
  • Avoid screen time for at least 30 minutes before bed (some experts recommend up to two hours). Blue light stimulates the brain. It disrupts your sleep because it makes your brain think it’s still daytime. If you absolutely must use your phone before bed or if you prefer to read on a device before going to sleep, use the settings on your device to minimize blue light exposure or wear blue-light-filtering glasses.
  • If you sleep with your phone in your room, place it on “do not disturb.” Also, set it at least five feet away from your head.
    Sleep in a cool, dark room. This promotes a drop in core body temperature, which naturally occurs as our body prepares for sleep. When I say dark, I mean dark! Some sleep experts think our skin has light-sensitive properties which when stimulated, may disrupt our sleep.
  • Avoid large meals right before bed. If you need to eat within two hours of bedtime, keep it light.
  • Avoid alcohol before bed. It may induce light sleep but it tends to disrupt the deeper more restorative sleep cycles.
  • Avoid intense workouts before bed. They elevate your core body temperature and a core body temperature drop is associated with sleepiness. If you need to workout late in the evening, try a cold shower to help offset this.
  • If you have trouble winding down at night, consider meditation. If you’re interested in learning the basics, Headspace® is a great app to get you started.
  • If you have a hard time sleeping, consider the supplement melatonin. It’s a safe sleep inducer produced by the body. I often recommend it to help regulate sleep. If you plan to take it, I recommend discussing it with your health care practitioner first.
The takeaway

I offered a lot of tips. If you’re looking to improve your sleep, set yourself up for success and give just a couple a try and see how your sleep improves.

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