Optimizing Your Sleep for Health & Performance

Take a second to think about the last time you had a bad night of sleep. How did you feel the next day? Tired, irritable, cranky, brain fogged? Unexplained aches and pains, poor brain performance, and negative mood are just a few of the consequences of sleeping poorly. Unfortunately, most people are actually in a state of sleep deprivation. It seems like the feelings and symptoms we just described are the status quo. Although we may think of sleep as an afterthought, it truly dictates every aspect of our physiology. Consequently, overlooking our sleep will impact our health and performance in a major way.

 

 

Consequences of Poor Sleep

We know inherently that sleeping poorly does not mix well with everyday life. You may be familiar with having to run to the coffee pot every hour just to get through the day. As you can imagine, sleep deprivation tends to wreak havoc on athletic performance and recovery as well. Studies have shown that poor sleep over several days can result in:

  • Decreased bench press and deadlift maximal strength (1)
  • Slower sprint times (2)
  • Lower muscle glycogen leading to decreased athletic performance (2)
  • Decreased distance covered during 30 minute time trial (3)
  • Increase in negative mood states and decreased reaction time (4)

This means that sleepless nights can affect the whole spectrum of performance Hence, not getting enough sleep will have a negative impact on everything in your life.

Additionally, studies show that insulin resistance is impaired and the risk for Alzheimer’s disease is greatly increased by chronically insufficient sleep (5). The bottom line is that getting enough rest is vital for health and performance.

 

Good Sleep Habits and Sleep Hygiene

Just how many hours do we need to get? Well, most of the research around sleep points to 7-9 hours as the magic number (4). However, the amount of sleep you need is highly dependent on you as an individual. Your job, training intensity/volume, and lifestyle all impact the quantity of sleep you should be getting. For example, elite athletes might require as many as 10 hours per night in order to fully recover from their training (6). You’ll need to find your own magic number through trial and error. However, once you do nail down the right amount, you’ll want to make sure that you schedule your day around sleep rather than take what you can get after the day is done.

Taking things further, the quality of our sleep is just as important as the quality. Ten hours of tossing and turning just won’t do the trick. We need to make sure that we rest soundly through the night to take advantage of all the restorative effects. So, in order to get that perfect night of sleep on a regular basis, you might want to consider the following:

Cell Phones, TV, Laptops, Etc.

Electronics play a big part in our lives nowadays but they can impact our sleep significantly. The blue light that is emitted from our electronics can disrupt our natural circadian rhythm. This is especially true when we expose ourselves to them at night. Studies show that blocking blue light in the hours leading to bedtime results in higher sleep quality and improved mood (7, 8). So, it is probably a good idea to restrict you exposure to blue light as much as possible in the evening hours.

Another thing to think about is the EMF from your cell phone. The low dose electromagnetic radiation that your phone emits often promotes higher levels of alpha brain waves during sleep (9). This pattern of altered brain waves is often seen on those who complain of chronic fatigue.  Anecdotally, I have seen major improvements when clients keep their cell phones far away during sleep. Consider leaving your phone in another room or set it to airplane mode (this blocks the electromagnetic transmission) throughout the night and see if it makes a difference.

Environment

Everyone knows that darkness triggers our brain to prepare for bedtime. Melatonin production is triggered by darkness which is a major player in promoting sleepiness. Because of this, sleeping in a pitch dark room is a no-brainer. However, noise should also be controlled as it can wake you up or prevent you from falling asleep. Using some accessories such as eye masks or ear plugs can help solve these issues.

Sometimes people overlook the aspect of temperature when it comes to sleep. Our body can’t regulate temperature very well when we are asleep. As a result, our brain will wake us up in an attempt to get your temperature back to normal. Therefore, sleeping in a room cool and avoiding heat promoting bedding can improve sleep quality greatly.

Useful Practices

It is often very helpful to establish a normal bedtime and wake time that you stick to everyday.  Our body tends to like routines and our sleep/wake cycle is no different. Going to bed and waking up at different times throughout the week can wreak havoc on your circadian rhythm. Although it is tempting to “catch up” on the weekend, you could actually do more harm by messing up your rhythm for the rest of the week.

Instead of catching up by sleeping in, consider throwing in some naps to make up the difference. Around 20-30 minutes is all that is needed to reduce sleepiness and increase mental and physical performance (10). However, it would be best to limit your nap to the early afternoon in order to avoid any interference with normal bedtime.

 

Conclusion

Most of us know that sleep is important for our health. Despite that, our busy schedules tend to leave little room for a good night’s rest. However, implementing some of the strategies and practices above don’t take a huge deal of effort. Plus, the return on investment is hard to beat. Getting a handle on a few of these basics will go a long way towards improving your health and performance. In addition, you’ll actually be more productive which will actually open up more time in your day rather than shorten it. So take some time to prioritize your sleep and recovery and I promise you’ll be feeling and performing better in no time!

 

References

 

  1. Reilly, T., & Piercy, M. (1994). The effect of partial sleep deprivation on weight-lifting performance. Ergonomics, 37(1), 107-115.

 

  1. Skein, M., Duffield, R., Edge, J., Short, M. J., & Mündel, T. (2011). Intermittent-sprint performance and muscle glycogen after 30 h of sleep deprivation. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 43(7), 1301-1311.

 

  1. Oliver, S. J., Costa, R. J., Laing, S. et al. (2009). One night of sleep deprivation decreases treadmill endurance performance. European journal of applied physiology, 107(2), 155-161.

 

  1. Walters, P. H. (2002). Sleep, the Athlete, and Performance. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 24(2), 17-24.

 

  1. Ju YE, Lucey BP, Holtzman DM. Sleep and Alzheimer disease pathology—a bidirectional relationship. Nature reviews Neurology. 2014 Feb;10(2):115.

 

  1. Mah, C. D., Mah, K. E., Kezirian, E. J., & Dement, W. C. (2011). The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players. Sleep, 34(7), 943-950.

 

  1. Kimberly, B., & James R, P. (2009). Amber lenses to block blue light and improve sleep: a randomized trial. Chronobiology international, 26(8), 1602-1612.

 

  1. Czeisler, C. A. (2013). Perspective: casting light on sleep deficiency. Nature, 497(7450), S13-S13.

 

  1. Huber, R., Treyer, V., Borbely, A. A., Schuderer, J., Gottselig, J. M., Landolt, H. P., … & Achermann, P. (2002). Electromagnetic fields, such as those from mobile phones, alter regional cerebral blood flow and sleep and waking EEG. Journal of sleep research, 11(4), 289-295.

 

  1. Waterhouse, J., Atkinson, G., Edwards, B., & Reilly, T. (2007). The role of a short post-lunch nap in improving cognitive, motor, and sprint performance in participants with partial sleep deprivation. Journal of sports sciences, 25(14), 1557-1566.

 

 

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