In a recent post, I wrote about how important recovery is when it comes to training. Probably the most prominent point from that article was the importance of sleep. In light of that, I thought it would be prudent to write about how we can maximize the sleep that we do get.
Quality over Quantity (but also quantity).... I will be the first to admit that a solid, four hour, uninterrupted high-quality snooze is better than 8 hours of tossing and turning. That said, your aim should still be to try and hit that magical 8-hour mark. Don't worry as much about the actual amount of time you are asleep, but strive to be in bed from bedtime to go-time.
Below are a few strategies to help you maximize your sleep so that you feel rejuvenated and energized for the day to come. Some of these strategies require some planning, and it is helpful to start planning for tonight's sleep as soon as you wake up in the morning.
1. No Caffeine
This may seem obvious, but I can't believe how many people I see who use coffee to get them over the 1:00 pm hump. Yes, I admit, the temptation is there to rely on caffeine to get you through the late meeting and the afternoon slog, but it ultimately isn't worth it.
Caffeine can affect your sleep for as many as 8 hours after consumption. Even just a little bit of caffeine left in your system can inhibit the quality of your sleep, despite managing to fall asleep.
There are a couple of recommendations that go along with this point...
A. Try 10 days without caffeine. If you are addicted to jo, this will be challenging, but well worth it. You may be surprised how much you rely on your morning coffee. After a 10 day purge, slowly introduce coffee back into your routine and see if it truly benefits you, or you are just fighting off a poor sleep from the night before.
B. Don't consume caffeine after 1:00 pm. If you absolutely cannot go without it (welcome to the club!) then at least limit your caffeine to the morning. If you find you are fatigued in the afternoon, find a way to sneak in a 15-minute nap and notice how quickly your energy increases.
C. Drink water instead. You may be surprised to find that your coffee craving is actually just your body calling out for hydration. Stay hydrated throughout the day and you will have a much easier time kicking the coffee habit.
2. Cut out the computer, TV and phone before bed
During the last few hours before sleep our body is expecting a natural shift into darkness. By staying up on your computer or phone, or watching the latest episode of GOT, you are sacrificing the quality of your sleep. The blue light from your screen increases the bodies arousal for hours following, so try and limit screen exposure after sun down.
If you absolutely have to be on your computer, use F.LUX to limit the amount of blue light that your computer puts out. This will at least minimize the disruption your computer will do, and help you get higher quality Zs.
3. Get sun exposure early
Our bodies follow a natural rhythm called a circadian rhythm, which is in-tune with the sun. As early as possible, try to get outside and exposure your skin to the sunlight. The natural production of vitamin D will put you on track to have a much better sleep that evening. You will also feel more awake during the day. The same blue light that keeps you up at night is abundant in a mid-morning sky and will help energize you for the day to come,
4. Sleep in dark silence
The best sleep is an uninterrupted one. Try to sleep in total silence and darkness to minimize your sleep disturbances. I will often use earplugs and an eye mask to ensure that my sleep stays uninterrupted. This is especially helpful when traveling or sleeping in a new place, where the novel environment can make it hard to get to sleep.
5. Take a cold shower right before bed
This one is probably counter-intuitive. However, a cold shower, and the rapid-cooling that accompanies it helps to effectively 'reset' your nervous system. It shuts down your sympathetic nervous system (the 'fight-or-flight one) and helps to activate your sympathetic nervous system. The results? A great nights' sleep.
Don't knock it 'til you try it!
Sleep is important for more than just physical recovery. It is also vital for mental performance and general mood maintenance. You might think you do pretty well with a mere 4 hours, but I guarantee you will be more effective with proper sleep.
Give these tips a try, and have a good sleep!
B.Kin, Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology CPT