5 Sleep Hacks to Make You a Better Athlete
It’s well know that sleep deprivation reduces both physical and mental performance, but is the opposite also true? Does more sleep boost athletic performance?
The answer seems to be a resounding yes. Research in various sports shows that more sleep significantly improves performance. This is largely through improving recovery, boosting anabolic hormone levels including testosterone and HGH, both of which are vital to the healing and growth of muscle and bone, as well as consolidating new skill acquisition. Poor sleep disrupts our metabolism, increases production of the stress hormone cortisol and shifts the body to a catabolic state.
If you’ve dialed in your training, nutrition and mobility, improving your sleep might just be the last piece of the puzzle in getting the very most out of your athletic ability. Here’s 5 sleep hacks::
1. Temperature – Keep it Cool
The available evidence shows that a temperature of 60-67°F (15-19°C) is best for quality sleep, with temperatures above 75°F (24°C) and below 54°F (12°C) less than optimal for sleeping. Body temperature has also been linked to the amount of deep sleep an individual gets during the night, with cooler body temperatures leading to more deep sleep. Cooler temperatures also resulted in longer sleep and more alertness in the morning. Importantly, recent evidence also showed that sleeping in cooler temperatures (66°F/19°C) increased insulin sensitivity and has metabolic advantages through an increased amount of ‘good’ brown fat.
2. Noise – Use Earplugs.
Creating a quiet bedroom is a key to getting restful, recuperative sleep. When noise stops you from going to sleep, or wakes you up during sleep, it’s not the noise itself that wakes you, but rather the sudden jarring change in noise levels. Using earplugs can lessen this jarring effect and better your chances of sleeping through it. You can also try using “white noise” such as a fan, air cleaner or sound conditioner to mask noises such as your partner snoring.
3. No Blue Light Before Bed – Turn the Electronics Off.
Light is the strongest regulator of our biological clock. Light exposure at nighttime suppresses melatonin production, a major hormone that controls sleep. This reduces sleep duration and quality. Unfortunately, the ‘blue’ light that is emitted by all our electronics (TV’s, computers, smart phones, tablets) is the most effective (read: worst) for suppressing melatonin production. It’s no wonder we’ve become a nation of sleep-deprived zombies!
Obviously, the best fix is to stop using all electronic equipment 1-2 hours before bed and read a book (not an ebook!). Assuming this is not a feasible option (and it isn’t for most of us), there is a program called f.lux, which automatically adjusts the color temperature of your computer, phone or tablet. The idea is that by adjusting to ‘warmer’ colors in the evening (less of the harsh blue light), electronic devices will not suppress melatonin production as much. And make sure your room is pitch black, even the standby button on the TV can worsen sleep.
It’s simply. Caffeine, usually in the form of coffee, makes us happy. And since more than half America drinks coffee daily (for a total spend of over $40 billion annually) I’m betting it has a pretty strong effect on Gross National Happiness!
As an aside, this wonder drug, caffeine has been show to enhance athletic performance, particularly in endurance sports. Many studies have shown lower levels of perceived effort for a given intensity and longer times-to-exhaustion. So it’s only natural that athletes are among the highest consumers of caffeine.
But it’s not all sunshine and roses, with an increased alertness, comes a decreased ability to sleep. With a 6 hour half life, you should abstain from consuming caffeine between four and six hours before bed, according to Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine. If you’re really brave, try going without caffeine for 2 days and you’ll know what real sleep is – basically hibernation!
5. 8-10 hours + naps
It’s no surprise that pro athletes sleep more than the rest of us. It’s not that they are lazy (although they may have more down time). Performance is their currency, and better performance = more money. World-beaters including Roger Federer and LeBron James routinely get 10-12 hours. Increase your sleep duration for better performance.
If this is not possible, naps can be remarkable effective at increasing recovery and getting a bit more rest in during the day. One consistent improvement seen with napping studies is enhanced consolidation of motor memory – very important when trying to learn a new skill or technique.
A popular new take on the nap is the caffeine nap. Consuming a coffee and immediately take a 15-20 min nap. Wake up feeling more refreshed than either a coffee or nap by itself. Just be careful about the timing of your caffeine intake.