At Champions + Legends we understand the importance of active recovery in order to perform at our best in a consistent manner. Luckily, popular culture appears to have caught up to what leading trainers and coaches have known for years: proper sleep is one of the most critical components underpinning optimal physical and mental performance. And yet: getting the right amount of sleep can be incredibly difficult, especially for busy professionals balancing a demanding career with their personal life and fitness. Here are some things to consider in order to set yourself for success when it comes to sleep:
- Maintain regular sleep times. Although sometimes dismissed as unachievable, going to bed and waking up at the same times every day allows your body to establish and maintain a regular sleep cadence, which is critical to achieving deep, restful sleep. Although tempting, sleeping in to catch up on a poor night’s sleep typically achieves more harm than good, making it more difficult to fall and stay asleep in subsequent nights. If you are struggling with poor sleep, maintaining consistent sleep and wake times (even on the weekends) may be the best thing you can do to improve your sleep.
- Dim the lights in the hour before you go to bed and sleep in a dark room. By reducing light exposure before bed, particularly from blue light-emitting devices such as your smartphone or tablet, you provide your body with a cue that it’s time for bed, enabling it to release melatonin which allows you to sleep. Once you’re in bed, make sure it’s in a dark room to reinforce the signal to your body that it’s time to fall asleep. You may wish to invest in a set of blackout shades to create a dark environment and consider travelling with a sleep mask to maintain sleep when you’re away from home.
- Sleep in a cool room (temperature-wise, that is). The optimal temperature for sleep is around 68 degrees Fahrenheit because your brain and your body need to drop their core temperature by about two or three degrees Fahrenheit to initiate good sleep. Having a cool room actually takes your brain and body in the right temperature direction to get good sleep.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Although many people think alcohol helps them fall asleep, it acts as a sedative, which means you actually knock out your brain, preventing it from going into natural sleep. Alcohol also fragments your sleep, causing you to wake up several times at night. Most people know that caffeine is a stimulant, which can help you stay awake, however, few people know that even if you can have a cup of coffee after dinner and fall asleep fine, the depth of the deep sleep you have when there is caffeine within your brain isn't as deep as when you've abstained from that cup of coffee after dinner. So for those who think caffeine doesn’t affect their sleep, think again.
- Do not stay awake in bed. Although it’s pretty common for people to watch TV in bed or even work on their laptop while nestled under the covers, doing so can wreak havoc on a person’s sleep as the brain quickly develops an association between bed being a place you go to stay awake, rather than one intended for rest. If you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep, the best advice is to get up, go to another room and read a book in dim light. Avoid screens, email checking and food. Only when you feel sleepy again should you return to bed, which will eventually allow your body to re-learn the association between your bedroom as a place to sleep rather than be awake.
- Meditate. In clinical trials meditation has been demonstrated to help people relax their body by calming the fight-or-flight branch of the nervous system that can emerge when we wake up in the middle of the night and start cycling through anxious thoughts. By meditating for a few minutes before bed, you can start to quiet the mind as well as the body, which also helps you fall back asleep more easily.