Could your performance get better just by improving your sleep?
Russell Foster is a British Circadian neuroscientist: His wonderful Ted Talk on "Why do We Sleep"
What is sleep and how does it work?
Sleep has such a profound effect upon performance and health because of the wide number of vital processes that are dependent upon it. When we sleep the body in effect carries out housekeeping duties; processes that help you deal with physical and mental stress, information processing and memory formation, repair and restoration of tissues
Cues such as falling temperature and light levels are picked up by the sensory nervous system and relayed to the brain which kicks off the production of a hormone melatonin, the trigger for sleep and everything that goes with it, and as such a very important player in your health.
Once sleep has been initiated the brain goes through a series of cycles which appear to be the crux of issue, indeed it has been suggested that it is not duration that counts, but rather the number and completeness of cycles you go through.
This cycle is repeated, usually from about 4-6 times in an 8 hour sleep period. So sleep quality is defined by the cycle but how many is enough?
Training and recovery, the impact of sleep
Sleep triggers the rage of a production of hormones, this hormonal milieu includes hormones like growth hormone and testosterone that are responsible for the repair and regeneration of tissues intrinsically involved in physical performance, and research shows that lack of sleep quickly impacts upon all sorts of physical tasks, with research covering weighlifters, cyclists, runners and so on.
The impact is two-fold, over the short term sleep issues have a massive negative effect upon the nervous system reducing strength endurance, concentration and co-ordination - all vital for sports and training.
Over the longer term disruptions in hormone output will effect the body’s ability to recover the tissues such as muscle as well as impairing carbohydrate storage efficiency and reducing immune competence.
In short: a bad night’s sleep with leave you weak and uncoordinated and over A long time you’ll be tired, fat and ill. Getting enough, quality sleep is important.
How much is ‘enough’?
For most of people getting less that 7 hours really starts to effect performance and health and many sleep coaches agree that aim should be on 8 hours. Studying historic texts and populations where there’s no electric light or TV’s actually shows significantly longer sleep durations for example 9-10 hours. My advice: Aim for 9, you’re bound to fall short but still will be OK.
Also remember that stress from high pressure work situations or from lots of physical training can also increase needs significantly, and although the right amount of stress can make for deeper sleep for example a well designed training program, other things, like too much training will disturb it.
Getting Quantity and Quality right
Duration is important but so is quality and sleep 'hacks', habits and little tricks that improve the environment and so can set you up for that deep, restful night’s sleep.
The Sleep Hacks
The environment must be comfortable, cool and dark:
When your sleeping partner stirs of fidgets then usually so will you so get as big a bed as possible.
• If you get hot easily standard open frame bed with space for the air to circulate underneath will make you more comfortable, especially in summer.
A decent mattress will be some of the best 'health & fitness dollar' you ever spend. Memory foam mattresses are great but again if you get hot easily closed and open spring mattresses will allow more airflow.
These loose both their shape and hygiene levels and should be replaced at least every few years. If you sleep on your side explore the range of orthopaedic pillows
• Reduce the Temperature
a few degrees cooler than your lounge
• Block out the Light
Light means it is time to wake up so make sure your curtains are light proof, or try the ‘blackout kits’ available in stores like Amazon.
• Cut the Noise
Environmental stimuli will disturb sleep so take a good look at this, maybe look at white noise generating sleep aids.
• Remove the electronics
TV's, computers of all types as well as smart phone produce a lot of blue light that inhibit melatonin production. Research shows this link and also shows that couples who removed the TV from the bedroom had sex more often … you might want to leave the TV in the lounge.
Hacking your Sleep Behaviour
What you do before bed effects sleep onset, duration and quality
Several Hours Before Bed:
• Do a Brain Dump
Make sure you get your tasks down in writing and relax.
• Avoid caffeine
The 'half life' of caffeine is about 5. I usually advise people to cut it a minimum of 5-6 hours before bed.
• Train earlier
Working out will help sleep quality but try not to train too close to bedtime. Yoga or meditation may help at the end of a session.
1 Hour Before Bed:
• Reduce fluid intake
Reduces nocturnal toilet trips.
• Get a ‘Pre Bed Routine’:
These cue the subconscious that sleep is imminent, should be boring and easy: fold clothes or pack food for the next day.
• Schedule sleep
An important aspect of ‘sleep hygiene’ is going to bed at the same or at least a very similar time every night..
• Cool the rooms
Cooling signals sleep, so cool the room by about 2 degrees
• Dim room lights, turn off your TV, computer and smartphone
Avoids stressful emails and look after your melatonin production.
• Food - Avoid liquid and/or salt as they may mean night time trips to the bathroom. Large amounts of fibrous carbs or fatty foods like cheese may sit on the stomach and disturb sleep as can spicy foods.
After Lights Out:
• Nocturnal manoeuvers in the dark
If you do need to get up in the night for any reason then don’t turn on the light unless you really have to.
In fact whatever you get up to after lights out, do it with the lights off.
• Awake with ideas:
If you get the spark of inspiration jot it down in the dark and go back to sleep – it helps to have a clear bed side table, a big piece of paper to aim at and a pencil sharpened at both ends.
Take away messages
• Sleep onset is cued by your environment
• Stress, both physical and mental will inhibit onset of sleep and may reduce quality
• Staying asleep depends largely upon your environment
• A few changes in environment and pre sleep behaviour can work wonders
• Sleep triggered internally rather than by medication is, by far, the best sleep
These practical tips will help you sleep like a baby, that deep restful sleep that we all crave is only a few little habit changes away, but you have to try them for them to work