“Sleep is one of the best performance enhancers there is” – Kobe Bryant
It has become widely recognized that sleep is essential for the recovery and performance of athletes, which makes assessing sleep quantity and quality, as well as identifying potential threats to adequate sleep, important for sleep optimization.
Although it is widely known how important sleep is, many people still struggle to get a good night’s sleep – even athletes! Research has shown that optimizing your sleep is critically important to overall health and recovery.
So what is adequate sleep? It is generally accepted that most adults require between 7-9 hours of sleep per night, but it is important to recognize that your optimal sleep time is based on your subjective alertness, fatigue, mood, and vigor (the subjective feeling of energy and enthusiasm) in the morning. Studies have shown that the negative effects of sleep deprivation on physical and cognitive performance can occur with just 2-4 hours less sleep per night. However, one bad night of sleep will not be your demise, as studies have also shown that a nap the following day or “banking sleep” (intentional sleep extension prior to a night of sleep deprivation) can be beneficial and even improve motor performance.
Based on the available research, most studies agree on increasing sleep by 2 hours for athletes, with a goal of up to 9 hours. This may seem excessive as it is at the high end of the range recommended for most adults, but sleep should be emphasized and included as a top priority in one’s training regime.
So, how can you improve your sleep hygiene – the conditions and practices that promote continuous and effective sleep – to optimize your recovery to reach your athletic potential? Born out of robust findings in the sport and performance literature, whose studies have shown that ritualized pre-event routines reduce cognitive and somatic arousal and facilitate management of emotional states, came “sleep routines”.
I spoke about performance routines back in the fall, in the Bodylogix Blog post on ‘The Mental Side of Sport,’ where athletes prepare a set sequence of thoughts and actions before and during their competitions to optimize their performance. These are the things athletes do to set the stage for competition and much like that, a sleep routine seeks to “prepare one for sleep by ritualizing pre-sleep behaviors into a personalized and standardized behavioral routine.”
I’ve compiled a top 5 list of common sleep hygiene practices and recommendations that have been shown to improve sleep quality and quantity in those who practice them regularly as a part of their individualized sleep routine:
1. Create an Effective Sleep Environment
Make sure your bedroom is quiet, as dark as possible, and a little on the cool side rather than warm. Research has shown that cooling your body temperature may improve sleep and findings suggest keeping your room between 60-70 degrees (15-21 degrees Celsius); however, keep your hands and feet warm. Set up the necessary conditions to succeed by priming your environment and space to be conducive with optimal sleep performance. Think of it as creating your perfect oasis for sleep.
2. Eliminate Screens
Blue-light emissions from screens disrupt the body’s natural melatonin production (which helps regulate one’s circadian rhythms) and can affect next-morning alertness. Remove the temptation by not having your television and/or computer (or even taking your phone with you) in the bedroom. This is an extension of creating an effective sleep environment, you want to reinforce the idea that the bedroom is your dedicated space for sleep. Sleep studies have demonstrated that avoiding blue light emitted from screens at least 2 hours before bed (smartphones, laptop, monitors) is beneficial and that falling asleep to the TV causes frequent waking during the night and poor sleep quality. So, avoid texting, social media, games, app use, and TV/computer use. If you must use electronic devices at night, consider installing color-adjusting and blue-light reducing software or wear blue-light blocking glasses.
3. Wind-Down Routine
Preparing for sleep and achieving a state of calmness have been suggested as important precursors to a good night’s sleep. Reducing mental fatigue is important for healthy sleep and regular bedtime routines/rituals help you relax and prepare your body for bed and can include reading, meditating, taking a warm bath, listening to music, and stretching to name a few. Decreasing high psychological strain and avoiding activating behaviours in evening hours have been shown to substantially improve sleep quality and quantity. Not only that, but wind-down routines establish habits that help our brains recognize when it’s time to sleep. Performing the same activities every night and building your personalized routine helps your brain see those activities as a precursor to sleep.
4. Regular Sleep-Wake Patterns
Much like performing wind-down routines to establish habits, research has suggested that regularity and routine in sleep–wake patterns facilitate better sleep. Try to get up at the same time every morning (including weekends and holidays). Hitting the snooze button does not improve sleep quality. If you have difficulty waking up, some suggest a dawn-simulator alarm clock and getting bright, natural light (the sun) upon awakening (the sun is ideal, but some suggest at least a 10,000 lux lamp if artificial).
5. Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol, and Tobacco
Do not smoke cigarettes or use nicotine, avoid alcohol if possible (if must use alcohol, avoid right before bed), and avoid caffeine if possible (if must use caffeine, avoid after lunch). Research has shown that these substances taken before bed can disrupt sleep homeostasis and have a detrimental effect on sleep quality. Smoking, alcohol, and other drugs alter the chemicals in our brains and can cause a loss of REM sleep.
By implementing these sleep hygiene strategies it is my hope that you will improve the quality and quantity of your sleep. Developing your sleep routine and implementing it diligently and consistently will yield health and performance benefits in the long-term.