Sleeping for Athletic Success
Oh, the irony. Athletes spend so much time, energy, and money in search of THE magic bullet to get them bigger, faster, stronger. But really, less is more. Literally, do less (at night). Sleep more. And sleep better! It is recommended that we sleep 7-9 hours each night. For an average of 8 hours a night, that would be 1/3 of your day. In other words, 1/3 of your life should be spent sleeping. Before getting into how you can give your sleep routine a makeover to improve your sleep hygiene, let’s quickly touch on why it is such a hot topic in sports performance these days.
Sleep Sales Pitch
First up, the negative effects of inadequate sleep...
- Disrupt your metabolism (and derail body comp goals)
- Throw off your appetite hormones and make you more hungry
- Decrease growth hormone (released when you sleep) and testosterone, leading to decrease muscle building
- Increase muscle breakdown
- Decrease your mental performance (hello slow reaction time and poor game-time decision making)
- Impair recovery (and set you back for next session)
- Increase risk of injury
- Weakened immune system (less able to fight off sickness and infection)
Really tempting to keep staying up late, run on fumes, and perpetually live in sleep debt, eh?
On the other hand, what does SUFFICIENT sleep do for you?
- Regulate your metabolism (and support body comp goals)
- Normalize appetite hormones for proper hunger/ fullness cues
- Allow for proper release of growth hormone and testosterone, aiding in muscle growth/ repair
- Fight off unnecessary muscle breakdown
- Enhance mental performance (better reaction time, alertness, and sharp game-time decision making)
- Improve recovery (and readiness for next session)
- Lower risk of injury
- Strengthen immune system (better ability to fight off sickness and infection)
Surely I have you bought-in by now….
But really, knowing all these things is only half the battle… actually falling asleep (and staying asleep) is the other half. Sleep is largely affected by behavioral routine and this should be the first point of attack when troubleshooting sleep (hint: melatonin is not the answer!). Finding a healthy sleep routine and sleep hygiene is the #1 thing you can do to enhance your sleep- and performance!
Sleep Habits for Success
First and foremost- Unwind (and Unplug). Yes, it’s true… you should limit screen time at night. The reason for this is that it can interfere with your body’s natural sleep/wake cycles. In addition to limiting screen time, consider these other tips and tricks:
- Set your phone or tablet to “night shift” at least 1hr before bed (or, skip the screens altogether…)
- Reduce lights at night and try blackout curtains
- Create a “sleep routine” to unwind (take a relaxing bath or shower, relaxation yoga, meditate, journal)
- Listen to audiobooks or relaxing, soothing podcasts at night (they do have sleep timers so they can shut off after a certain amount of time or end of chapter)
- Make a list of things you need to do the next day to minimize stress
- If stress/ anxiety is keeping you up- whether it be sports-related or life-related, consider talking to a therapist or sport performance coach
The Natural Sleep Supplement… Naps!
Napping can be another great way to incorporate not only rest and recovery but also prepare you for the next session! Whether it’s two-a-days, weekend tournaments, or a late evening practice… a 30 min nap can help supplement (not replace) nighttime sleep. It can improve your alertness, focus, and physical readiness. However… too long of naps can disrupt your sleep at night, or leave you feeling more groggy when you wake up. And also be aware of the timing of this before the start of a night game! Keep it short and sweet.
But what about other Supplements? Isn’t there a magic bullet?
As far as a sleep-enhancing “magic bullet”, most people assume melatonin or over-the-counter sleep aids are the answer—but this actually is not the case. These are not meant for long term, daily solutions to fixing sleep disturbances. In certain conditions where these may be helpful or necessary, it should be under the direction and supervision of a medical doctor. Save yourself the money!
There are, however, a few nutritional strategies that may support a better night’s sleep. In addition to addressing the behavior/ environment around sleep, consider the nutrients below to help regulate melatonin and sleep cycles.
- Watch your caffeine intake, especially later in the day. This could be from coffee/tea, supplements, or foods like soda and chocolate
- Decaf coffee and teas may still contain a small amount of caffeine
- Hydrate better throughout the day, rather than chugging a huge bottle of water at night because you realized you didn’t hydrate well earlier…. This will just make you wake up to use the restroom in the middle of the night.
- Avoid large, heavy, fried/greasy meals late at night. These can disrupt a good night’s sleep. Put an emphasis on starchy carbohydrates and protein at your night-time meals/ snacks.
- Tart Cherry is a great tool for both recovery and sleep! It decreases muscle soreness and increases natural melatonin production.
- Tart cherry juice or powders are most common and concentrated sources
- On the supplement side, consider Magnesium- as always, we are looking for third-party tested supplements in the proper form and dosage.
- Check out Multivitamins with split AM/PM doses to give certain nutrients at certain times of the day (i.e. higher magnesium in PM to promote sleep)
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