Sleep Breeds Success
Sleep may be the most important aspect of the recovery process and is often the most overlooked. Since Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb in 1879, the average American went from sleeping over 9 hours a night to less than 7 hours nightly and more than a third of Americans are chronically sleep deprived. If you are an athlete, these sleep patterns will prevent you from maximizing your training. During sleep your body is able to grow new tissue and repair damaged cells by producing growth hormones that are crucial to help you recover from the previous day’s work. In order to function optimally athlete’s need to aim for at least 8 and preferably 9 hours of sleep at night.
With school, practice, film, weights, homework and social events, it may seem impossible to get the appropriate amount of sleep during the week. Here are some tips that encourage better sleep habits.
1. Master your time.
In order to get enough sleep, take care of your school work, focus on your athletic career, and still have a social life you must learn to become more efficient with your time. Block off some time on Sunday afternoons to make a schedule for the week. Use thirty minute or hour segments and fill in your weekly activities. Schedule your sleep FIRST, then obvious commitments such as school, practice, games, etc. Schedule time each day to knock out homework so it doesn’t pile up and then schedule your social time with family and friends. Having a schedule may seem too rigid and unmanageable but if you are disciplined and stick to your plan it will give you more freedom to do the things that are important to you.
2. Avoid caffeine 10 hours prior to bed time.
Caffeine has a half-life of 3 to 7 hours depending on your individual sensitivity. Therefore, when caffeine is consumed later in the evening it could take up to 10 hours before it’s effects are completely removed from your body. Caffeine works by blocking the action of adenosine, which is responsible for inducing drowsiness, and thus prevents your body from becoming sleepy. Coffee and tea should be consumed in moderation (1–2 cups) whereas energy drinks and soda need to be avoided if you are looking to perform your best. If you are sleeping more than 8 hours a night your need for any “pick me ups” will be diminished.
3. Avoid screen time an hour before bed.
The body’s natural circadian rhythm is tied to the sun. As the sun goes down your body starts to produce melatonin which triggers your brain to prepare for sleep. Artificial light and the blue light emitted from screens can affect your body’s circadian rhythm and delay the secretion of melatonin in the evening. This decrease in melatonin along with the stimulation from the artificial light can be confusing to your body and negatively affect your sleep.
Pro Tip: Sometimes avoiding your phone or device after dark may not be an option (this does not include using it for Instagram or Snapchat!). If you must use your device turn the night shift function on to avoid blue light after dark.
4. Plan for tomorrow the night before.
To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. Having a plan and knowing how you are going to attack the day will allow your mind to rest and help you avoid the hamster wheel of thoughts. Set out your clothes. Pack your school and athletic bags. Prepare your lunch and any snacks for the next day. Not only will this keep you from running around in the morning but it will also help you rest easier knowing you are prepared for the next day.
5. Have a night time routine.
Keeping a routine at night allows your body to prepare for sleep. Taking a shower or bath and performing light stretching prior to bed can help turn on the parasympathetic nervous system and allow you to start the shutdown process. Also, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day will help your body’s natural circadian rhythms and keep you feeling refreshed when you wake up.
6. Take a Nap!
Research shows that just 10–20 minutes of sleep can increase your alertness, improve your motor performance, boost creativity, elevate your mood, and help you make better decisions. Now this doesn’t give you an excuse to fall asleep during class but it may give you a reason to find a quiet place after lunch instead of checking out your social media feeds. Naps date back as far as first century BC during the Roman empire (known as “sexta”, the sixth hour) and have carried over to present day as siestas.
Pro Tip: Find 20 minutes during your day to have a siesta. Instead of checking your latest social media feed find a quiet place after lunch and close your eyes. Do this and reap the benefit from the extra energy boost during your afternoon practice or game.
As an athlete, your ability to recover and prepare for tomorrow will determine your success whether you are training, practicing, or playing a game. Make sure you are taking advantage of your body’s natural repair system by getting enough sleep during the week so you can perform when it matters.