I am always telling my athletes sleep is as important as training, but to get some proof I looked up the sleepfoundation.org site and pinched a quote from some folks much smarter than me:
“Some research suggests that sleep deprivation increases levels of stress hormone, cortisol. Sleep deprivation has also been seen to decrease production of glycogen and carbohydrates that are stored for energy use during physical activity. In short, less sleep increases the possibility of fatigue, low energy, and poor focus at game time. It may also slow recovery post-game”
Simply put: if we are not sleeping well, we are not allowing the body time to recover/adapt from all the (hopefully) quality training/nutrition we are putting it through.
What? Performance could suffer? Suddenly I have the triathletes’ attention!
So How do You Improve Your Sleep?
This is where I end my “extensive” academic research on the topic and fall back onto some 20 years of experience (if you will excuse the humblebrag). The rest of the article is primarily anecdotal. Here are my “Do’s and Don’ts” when it comes to sleep.
DONT: Plan/attempt to retire for the evening too soon after a training session. Your heart rate/endorphins will likely still be elevated and result in you staring at the ceiling. Make sure there is a little unwinding time between your workout and bedtime. I suggest watching TV, preparing for tomorrow, or chatting with family/friends.
DO: Avoid caffeine after a certain hour. I am a stickler for a cup of coffee first thing in the morning—it gets me going for the day! But I know if I have any caffeine of any description after around 4pm, I know I will still be slightly wired come bed time. For your best sleep, find your own caffeine cut-off time and stick to it.
DONT: Eat too soon or heavily before you go to bed. I find when I go to bed with a full stomach, I have a hard time getting comfortable, likely because the body is working hard to break everything down.
Fun fact: By giving your body time to digest your last meal before retiring for the night, you can reduce your chance of the calories turning into fat.
DO: Switch off from news/social media a few hours before heading to bed. God knows there is enough bad news out there, no need to have it fresh in your mind when trying to sleep.
DONT: Bring your iPhone/laptop/tablet to bed. Plenty of scientific research notes that blue/LED light suppresses the production of melatonin (a nifty little hormone that dictates your circadian rhythm and promotes restorative sleep). On a more personal note, this can also help you avoid increasing stress from potential work emails or cyber arguments that can pop into your feed.
DO: Plan for something to help you unwind in a non-electronic manner. This could be reading a good old fashioned book, practicing meditation or focus on deep, cleansing breathing.
DO: Make sure your room is set for a good night’s sleep. This is as simple as making sure your room is the right temperature and you have a good comfortable mattress, pillow and possibly even black-out blinds if you’re dealing with some light pollution.
As athletes, we spend plenty of money on equipment but often neglect to invest in other key areas that will help! As in: get the good mattress!
None of the above is rocket science. The main thing is to have a solid routine incorporating the DO and DONTs above. Here is my typical routine for optimal sleep:
- Last coffee by 4pm
- Last training session completed by 7pm
- Dinner completed by 8pm
- Chill out time (including prep for next days training/work) completed by 9:30pm
- I do try to have the phone switched off by then but not as always possible
- Bed with a good book by 10pm
- Asleep by 10:30
The above works well for me, but of course it’s up to you to find your perfect routine. Sweet dreams, folks!