Better Sleep

How to Coach Older Athletes to Get Better Sleep

BY John Post, MD

Sleep and recovery are important aspects of training for any athlete, but even more so as we age. Learn more about techniques you can share with your athletes that will help them get to bed on time and sleep better.

Juggling Life, Endurance Sports, and Sleep

Endurance athletes are used to squeezing more into a day compared to most folks. When given the choice between lunch with the gang or shoehorning in a 5-mile run, the run almost always gets the nod. Then, at the end of the day when much-needed rest is in order and everything is not checked off the list yet, sleep is given short shrift.

Hey, it always worked in college, right? But, most of us aren’t in college anymore.

Plus, it’s not academics on the plate, but instead, physical effort placed on a body that is probably beaten down from yesterday’s workout or that half marathon last Saturday.

In the Complete Triathlon Book, fitness and food writer Matt Fitzgerald writes, “You can do more than you might think to prevent general fatigue — a great epidemic in our society to which triathletes are especially susceptible.” Sounding an even sterner tone, IRONMAN U Master Coach Matt Dixon wrote in The Well-Built Triathlete, “Sleep and recovery are required in order for the body to positively respond to that much-needed training load and adapt to become fitter and more powerful.”

Sleep Becomes Even More Important As We Age

It’s pretty obvious that many younger athletes can live with less sleep and still perform at a very high level, but many modestly older athletes just can’t. And, by older, I don’t just mean the Medicare crowd. I mean you “Ms. Forty-Year-Old” with a full life outside of the sport.

As one gets deeper into the training year, and the intensity and duration of training increases, the body simply must have regular sleep to combat the accumulating physical stress. It is during sleep that the body releases testosterone, a hormone that has received more than its fair share of press recently but is certainly important.

So, particularly as we get older, we need to be careful not to compromise sleep. Plus, it’s one of the few things in endurance sports training that doesn’t cost more money, right? So, the next time you plan turkey for supper while contemplating that luscious taste with sleep-inducing agents of its own like L-tryptophan, take just a minute to think about how today’s sleep recommendations can fit into your athlete’s lifestyle.

They’ll be winners if they do.

Three Tips To Get Better Sleep Before Bed

I hear coaches saying it regularly. Get more sleep.

That said, people in this sport have to get a lot done every day including training. But, at the end of the day, it’s easy to think “it’ll just take 15 minutes to finish.” If you’re like most, it turns into 45 minutes and then there’s a recap of the baseball game that you missed, etc. I know, it happens to me. Even when I have the best intentions to get to bed by 10 p.m., I start piddling around with little stuff.

Here are a few recommendations for your athletes to make sure they don’t miss their bedtime.

  1. Make it routine. If you can pick a time, stick to it by powering down 15 minutes before, and it becomes a habit, you’ll do it without even thinking. During your weekly athlete conversation, a simple “so, did you get to bed on time each night?” to your athlete will go a long way.
  2. Set an alarm. The second method to make your bedtime is to simply set an alarm on your phone or kitchen oven for perhaps 20 minutes before the desired sack time. Start to get ready then.
  3. Put out all your clothes and morning workout gear before bed. Have your athlete think of it as their own little transition area. Instead of waiting until 10 p.m., prepare right after supper. That way, as bedtime approaches, your wind downtime doesn’t get extended.

Six Tips For Better Sleep Once You’re In Bed

Now that you’re in bed, ensure insomnia doesn’t creep in. Try these bedtime tips from a neurologist and sleep medicine specialist Chris Winter, MD.

  1. Read a real book. Make sure you’re using indirect lighting once in bed, and remember that e-readers and cell phones often reduce sleep quality.
  2. If you have to use a screen, buy a pair of blue-block glasses. These glasses reduce the type of light that keeps you awake.
  3. Keep your bedroom neat. It’s been proven to improve sleep quality.
  4. Avoid any bright light before bed. This includes in the bathroom while brushing your teeth.
  5. Stay away from sleeping pills.
  6. Last, sex is good for sleep. Doctor’s orders!
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About John Post, MD

Dr. Post has a long history with triathlon including 6 Kona finishes and an Orthopedic Surgery practice in Virginia caring for, among others, injured triathletes. He now enjoys giving back to the sport by being a World Championship Transitions volunteer every October. If you find yourself on the pier in Kona, please stop and say hi to “the man in the red hat.”

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