Sleep, it is the best medicine and can help you make some major gains in the health department. You may not be competing on the level of Lauren Fleshman or Beckham, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get the same benefits from some of their training strategies. One of the keys for athletes staying competitive is sleep. If you are skimping on the hours you spend in bed however, you might as well be skipping the gym. Even if you are giving 100 % at the gym, have your nutrition and meal plans down pat, if you don’t get enough sleep your performance will suffer and the work at the gym and your dedication to a healthy diet really don’t matter. Not only will sleep deprivation lower your immune system, it will also lower your cognitive function at work, slow your reaction time, but also you will take much, much longer to recover from you workouts. I tell clients that the important work we do at the gym doesn’t really happen there. The days in between your workouts is when your body is making all those physiological changes, repairing and recovering helping you become stronger and fitter and sleep is a huge component of that recovery process.
Here are some of the top things you can do to help your performance
- Time is of the Essence, begin an Early-to-Bed Routine
You cannot maintain optimum athletic performance and skimp on sleep, it just won’t work. If not today, eventually you will pay the price for those late night emails and TV binge watching. For two weeks try to schedule sleep into your day like anything else, I put my bedtime in my calendar and the reminder going off through my favorite show makes me hit “pause” and pick it up later. After a few times of going to bed at an earlier time you will begin to go to bed when you feel tired, it is never too early to hit the sack. High performance athletes are very used to going to bed when others just begin to get their “second-wind”. After a few days of this you may notice you are yawning much less mid-morning and can accomplish more tasks without the aid of caffeine. You ‘d be surprised how more hours of sleep can be a powerful motivator for more sleep!
- Track It
We track everything else, our steps, our food, our workouts and training programs, why shouldn’t sleep be one of them? Athletes have no problem, in fact most of them are obsessive about tracking their daytime stats and performance, but they have often paid little if no attention to what happens to their bodies at night. In fact this is often more important. Monitoring your sleep throughout the night can help you see how much sleep and what your quality of sleep is. I encourage my clients to monitor their sleep through apps on their phones. Devices like Beddit , a company based in Finland, transmits data from an ultra-thin film sensor under your sheet to a free iOS mobile app. It can measure cardiorespiratory functions by detecting movements caused by respiration and heartbeats. Beddit also measures sleep time, sleep latency (the time required to fall asleep), awakenings, resting heart rate and snoring. Your trainer or coach can then use that info to help your workouts become more effective.
- Cold is the new Hot
We typically sleep too hot, it is much nicer to get into a warm bed then one that makes you shiver between the sheets. Athletes typically have a higher metabolic activity which means they sweat a lot at night. A cooler sleeping environment makes for a more comfortable sleep and the body will metabolize at a more effective rate.
- Wine down, and not with the bottle
No, winding down with a bottle of wine is not what I advise clients to do. We need to prepare ourselves for a successful night sleep and that begins about 20 minutes before your bedtime. A little while before you intend to shut your eyes begin anticipating sleep and start a routine of meditating, reading a book or writing in a journal. DO NOT check emails or surf the net, the light of the computer will tell your body to stay awake and keep working. Work on relaxing and doing some breathing exercises to stimulate the parasympathetic system, which helps aid in relaxation.
About 3 hours before bed, unplug yourself. Stop working, stop checking email, it can wait until morning> (Unless you’re an ER doctor). Depending on what your source is, the time before bed recommended to unplug can vary. But in my experience about 3 hours is enough time to begin “disengagement.” Athletes and us alike need to be focusing on being still and not engaged. Put the phones down, log off the computer and relax. “It is the inner activity on your brain that causes the issue when it comes to quality of sleep.” —Charles Samuels M.D., medical director at the Centre for Sleep and Human Performance in Calgary.