Sleep, Recovery and Your Performance
Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep is a really frustrating problem for an athlete. Most people sleep really well when their training volume increases because they’re feeling more fatigued from the increased activity. In fact, many people want to sleep ALL THE TIME when their training increases (if that’s you, check your nutrition). Whether you sleep like a baby or you’re burning the candle at both ends, sleep is incredibly important for your recovery and performance.
Sleep is one of the only times your body produces growth hormone and melatonin. Growth hormone is (you guessed it) responsible for growth and development, but it’s also responsible for muscle growth and repair. Melatonin is one of the body’s most powerful antioxidants, which means that it helps clean up inflammation in the body. Exercise is a naturally inflammatory state, and that’s actually good; in training, we cause stress on our muscles, cardiovascular and respiratory systems in order to achieve a benefit. We have to repair and recover from the stress of training in order to benefit from it. If you’re having an issue falling asleep, staying asleep or you just don’t get enough sleep, your performance could suffer.
So, how can you improve your sleep? Here are my top 3 tips:
1) Power down - turning off your phone, computer and TV before bed helps your brain unwind. The blue light from backlit displays changes your brain’s sensitivity to melatonin. Remember, melatonin is a powerful inflammation fighter and helps us repair. I suggest turning off all screens a minimum of 30minutes before bed. What can you do instead of watching netflix? Reading a book, taking a warm bath, drinking a cup of herbal tea or doing some journalling can be great, relaxing activities to try before bed.
2) Avoid the late-night munchies - if you have a tough time falling asleep at night, this one is for you. Remember to manage your nutrition during the day so that you’re not inhaling every snack on the planet before bed. Late night snacking decreases your body’s sensitivity to hormones like melatonin that help you wind down. Consuming sugar before bed can cause your blood sugar to drop during sleep which will usually wake you up. Avoid sugary treats 90 minutes before bedtime and you should be in the clear.
3) Hydrate - especially when you’re training, you may have increased water requirements. I usually recommend my patients have a cup of water before bed. Most people are worried they will have to go to the bathroom if they drink water too close to bedtime. If you’re constantly getting up to pee at night, this tip isn’t for you. If you don’t wake up to pee, but you wake up in the middle of the night and you can’t figure out why, you could actually be waking up dehydrated.
There are lots of other things that can cause impaired sleep. Figuring out what is causing the issue is most important. If you’ve tried all the tips above and you still have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, it’s important to reach out to a health care provider. Stress, worry, anxiety and hormone imbalances can all contribute to poor sleep. Managing these conditions and getting your sleep on track will help you recover well and train hard.