Sleep has been called the most underrated part of recovery for long enough that it is probably now appropriately rated. Whatever your goals, the best training plan, nutrition, and use of the latest, greatest recovery methods are not as important as a good night’s sleep. With inadequate sleep we are more injury prone and more likely to get sick. So how can you improve the most significant aspect of your recovery?
A good night’s sleep begins much earlier in the day. The overall goal is to get into a consistent rhythm with daily routines to support your sleep, as well as regular timing for when you go to bed and wake up. We can improve our sleep later that night by doing the following during the day:
- Avoid consuming caffeine in the afternoon
- Stop eating 2 to 3 hours, and drinking 1 to 2 hours before bedtime
- Avoid alcohol
Caffeine affects each of us differently. I can have a double shot of espresso right before bed, and have no trouble falling asleep, whereas if Lesley even looks at green tea after noon she’s going to be counting a few extra sheep later that night. That said, I know, and have noticed, that if I limit my caffeine intake the quality of my sleep improves dramatically. Even if you consider yourself someone that can handle that late afternoon pick me up, try cutting it out or substituting something else for a couple of weeks, and see how you feel.
The recommended timelines to stop eating and drinking are guidelines. Again, everyone’s different. The goal of the eating recommendation is to allow your body adequate time to digest. If your body’s working to process food, you won’t rest as well. Not to mention that it will help avoid commonly linked tummy troubles. Plus, our metabolism slows when we sleep, making late night snacking non-ideal for our body composition goals. The main aim of the drinking suggestion is to limit or eliminate the need to wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Plan when you eat for a better night’s sleep!
We sometimes think a drink before bed will help us relax and fall asleep more easily. While this is true, it simultaneously reduces the amount of deep sleep, rest, and recovery we are getting. Alcohol also negatively impacts improvements in our strength and conditioning. All this is to say, while fine for a celebration or other special occasion, as athletes, alcohol is not a great daily choice.
Last, but certainly not least is exercise! All the suggestions above are “don’t do this”, and “don’t do that”. It’s good to end on a positive. Regular exercise can help you fall asleep faster and improve the quality of your sleep. Exercise works well with all the other recommendations too! When you have a consistent workout schedule you will have more energy throughout the day, and less need for caffeine. Training becomes a part of your lifestyle, limiting late night snacks and alcohol to special occasions.
If you’re after a better night’s sleep, begin practicing these habits, start catching some Z’s, and stay tuned for Part 2 where we’ll discuss how to set up your sleep space for sweet dreams.