It’s well known that the average adult needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Most of us operate on something researchers have coined “sleep debt” which is the effect of not getting enough sleep. Having a large sleep debt causes mental, emotional and physical fatigue. Therefore, losing or missing sleep messes up physiological functioning and can be a big contributor to stress, inflammation, cancer, diabetes and a whole host of other diseases. Every day our bodies take a beating and it needs sleep to repair itself. As athletes you should be interested in getting enough sleep because it can aid in recovery and reduce stress on your body. Sleep can even help you lose weight. Sleep helps the body modulate cortisol, leptin and insulin levels. These are all hormones that regulate glucose storage and usage. Sleep deprivation causes the body to produce less leptin (a hormone that reduces appetite) and more ghrelin (a hunger stimulating hormone).
Besides regulating hormonal balances and aiding in recovery, lack of sleep can put you at higher risk of traffic accidents. Driving sleepy has been related to driving under the influence of alcohol yet sleepy-driver crashes are more likely to be serious. According to the National Sleep Foundation, lack of sleep can lead to depression and anxiety. People who don’t get enough sleep are more susceptible to infections and increases risk of diabetes. Also, a recent study showed that during sleep the brain cells create new connections, or synapses, which can impact memory learning.
Although we have suggestions on the amount of sleep we need, some experts say there is no magic number that determines each one of our needs. It is safe to say that the athlete running on a full eight hours of sleep is probably going to perform and recover better than the one running on five to six. There is a caveat and that is the kind of sleep we get. The National Sleep Foundation says to focus on basal sleep and sleep debt. Basal sleep need is the amount of sleep needed for optimal performance. When we don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis we create a bigger sleep debt and over time, this debt leads to increases risk of illness and emotional stress.
What can you do improve your sleep? Create healthier sleep hygiene habits. We all make it a priority to get to the gym, track our workouts and focus on eating whole foods. Why not make your sleep just as much a priority? Here are some ways to improve your sleep.
- Stick to a sleep/wake schedule. Make your bedtime and wake up time the same, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body’s internal clock. We have lights out no later than 9pm and without fail I am awake five to ten minutes before my alarm goes off at 4am. I have helped my body create a routine. Although I would love to sleep later when I don’t have to get up at 4am, my body is ready to go for the day.
- Get off of your electronic devices and turn the television off. The blue light wavelengths tell your brain that there’s a bright blue sky and you need to be awake. Studies show that this same blue light stimulates your brain similar to caffeine. Try getting away from the screens right before bed and see if helps.
- Start and practice a relaxing bedtime routine. Michael and I like to RomWod about an hour before we go to bed. Although it can be a tough routine at times it does slow us down and relax our minds. Find something that can help you slow down.
- Exercise daily! I think we all have this down for the most part.
- Avoid caffeine after noon. Caffeine is a stimulant and although you may not feel the effects while drinking it, it takes six hours for half of caffeine’s stimulating effects to be eliminated.
- Avoid naps. If you already have a hard time falling asleep then avoid catnaps. It may help.
- Make your bedroom a place for sleep and intimacy ONLY! Remove any televisions and keep your electronic devices hidden away. This will help you psychologically associate your bedroom as a restful place and not a place for work, stress or other distractions.
- Make your room dark, cool and quiet.
- Lastly, avoid alcohol before bed. Although alcohol may help you fall asleep, studies show that it decreases your REM sleep, particularly during the later parts of the night. Having that nigh cap may help you fall asleep but you will inevitably wake up and have a more restless sleep.
Sleep is an important part of your healthy lifestyle. We are all busy and I know it’s hard to make changes to your life. If you want to continually progress as an athlete and just feel your best, make sleep a priority!
Have a great week and get your sleep.