8 Powerful Tips to Help your Athletes Sleep Better
Sleep is one of the most essential forms of recovery
- Create a routine and stick to it
- Optimize conditions for sleep
- Bedroom equipment
- Avoid technology and blue light exposure before bed
- Increase bright light exposure during the day
- Avoid caffeine in the evening
- Maintain a relaxed state before bed
- About the Author
Sleep is a homeostatically controlled behavior resulting in reduced movement and sensory responsiveness (Allada & Siegel 2008). Although the true function of why humans sleep remains unclear, there is no doubt of its importance for human cognitive and physiological function (Fullagar et al. 2015).
Typically, to feel refreshed and energetic upon waking up most adults require approximately 8-hours of sleep (Purves 2009). It is suggested that athletes may even require between 9 and 12-hours of sleep to allow for adequate recovery from training sessions (Bird 2013). Sleep deprivation has many consequences for humans and restricts cognitive function, influences mood, increases daytime tiredness and impairs learning and memory tasks (Mah et al. 2011).
With regards to athletic performance, studies have shown the determinantal effect poor sleep quality can have on physical performance, hindering power, strength and cardiovascular function in addition to impairing psychomotor tasks such as reaction time, decision making and skills requiring precision and accuracy (Bird 2013). Therefore, the aim of this blog is to outline 8 practical tips that a coach can reinforce to athletes, with aims of positively influencing athlete sleep habits.
1. Create a sleep routine and stick to it
Establish a sleep and wake time and stick to it, even on weekends if possible, especially when competition is due to take place. Irregular sleeping patterns affect your circadian rhythm and melatonin levels which signal your brain to sleep (Emens et al. 2009).
Once a routine is established, falling asleep at night can become quicker and easier (Halson 2017). Being consistent with your sleep schedule will reduce tiredness and helps your body sync with its essential physiological patterns (Halson 2017). Maintaining a routine every night in the hour leading up to sleep will help reinforce the signals to your body that it is time to go to bed (Halson 2017).
2. Optimize conditions for sleep
Keeping your room cool, quiet and dark all create an environment that makes it easier to sleep (Halson 2017). External distractions such as noise, light, and temperature can harm sleep hygiene (Bodin et al. 2015).
By eliminating excess noise and artificial light, your bedroom can become an enjoyable place to get high quality, deep sleep (Lee & Gay 2011). This can be further promoted by avoiding an increase in room and body temperature, which can decrease sleep quality and can lead to wakefulness (Okamota-Mizuno et al. 2004). Although room temperature can be a personal preference and be influenced by the time of year, 18°C is recommended (Bird 2013).
3. Bedroom equipment
Bed quality can also affect sleep. Having an appropriate mattress and pillow is especially important for athletes as aches and soreness are part and parcel of sport and training. Jacobson et al. (2002) found quality bed mattresses reduced pain in muscles and stiffness in joints as well as improving overall sleep quality by over 60%.
To maintain this, a bed mattress should be changed approximately every 5-8 years (Jacobson et al. 2002). Making a small investment in eyeshades or blackout curtains to block out any excess light is also a worthwhile investment (Halson 2017). When waking up in the morning, being quick to open curtains lets light into your room, which can act as a signal to your body that it is time to wake up (Halson 2017).
Napping can be extremely beneficial for athletes who are routinely waking up early for training sessions and can counteract some of the negative effects of poor sleep hygiene (Halson 2017). When planned correctly, naps can help athletes work more efficiently (Halson 2017). Waterhouse et al. (2007) found a 30-minute nap improved 20-m sprint performance compared to no nap with athletes who only experienced 4-hours of sleep the night before.
Napping can reduce sleepiness and can be beneficial before a session involving skills and tactics (Postolache & Oren 2005). However, napping too close to bedtime or beyond a duration of 30-minutes may interfere with regular sleep (Halson 2017).
5. Avoid technology and blue light exposure before bed
Try to avoid watching TV or using laptops and mobile phones an hour before sleeping and turn to calm, relaxing activities instead (Halson 2017). Technological devices such as smartphones and laptops expose blue light, which can confuse the brain as this is usually a sign that it’s daytime, resulting in reducing the hormones that promote relaxation and deep sleep (Figueiro et al. 2011).
If technological devices cannot be avoided in the evening time, then certain strategies can be taken to minimize the effect of blue light such as altering brightness levels on devices, applying night mode features or apps on devices and wearing glasses that block blue light (Figueiro et al. 2011).
6. Increase bright light exposure during the day
The human body has a natural body clock known as it’s circadian rhythm (Purves 2009). Natural sunlight or bright light during the day helps your body recognize it’s daytime and not sleep (Purves 2009).
2-hours of bright light exposure during the day have been shown to improve sleep duration and quality (Fetveit et al. 2003) and a circadian rhythm which is adjusted to evenings will help athletes perform to their best (Thun et al. 2015). Furthermore, taking training sessions outside during the daytime if possible is an effective way to help keep athletes’ circadian rhythm in tune.
7. Avoid caffeine in the evening
Consuming caffeine before bed can negatively affect the quality of sleep (Halson 2017). Caffeine consumption 6-hours before sleep can reduce sleep quality due to its stimulation of the nervous system, which may prevent the ability to relax (Drake et al. 2013) and as such, avoiding items that contain caffeine such as coffees, teas, energy drinks, and soda late at night is paramount. Alcohol can also harm sleep and should be consumed in moderation (Halson 2017).
8. Maintain a relaxed state before bed
It can be very common for athletes to be worried about general life stressors or upcoming competition, especially the night before, which has the potential to negatively impact sleep (Bird 2013).
Creating a pre-sleep routine to help enter a relaxed state before bed is an effective remedy, which should be specific to the individual and stressor. Common relaxation modalities such as listening to relaxing music, reading a book, deep breathing, and visualization may aid relaxation (Halson 2017).
For athletes, it could be beneficial to tie in recovery strategies close to sleep time (e.g. massage and bathing), which have relaxation benefits (Halson 2017). Also, keeping a diary or a to-do list can help with relaxation by ‘dumping’ stressors or tasks down night (Halson 2017).
To conclude, it cannot be underestimated how important sleep is for human and athletic performance (Bird 2013). Coaches who reinforce these 8 powerful tips with their athletes can contribute to encouraging positive sleep habits in athletes. Questionnaires, apps and wearable technology are all tools that can help coaches monitor an athletes’ sleep (Lee et al, 2018). Here is a sleep calculator template that can highlight recorded sleep quality and support the decision-making process when reinforcing the above 8 powerful sleep tips with athletes.
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