Sleep is Medicine

Every human needs sleep. It’s a necessity for us to survive. But for a physically active human, the importance of sleep becomes enters a whole different level. 

There are many things that an athlete cannot control around their performance, things such as the weather, work and family events affecting training. Physical factors are something that can be controlled to a greater extent, such as diet, recovery periods and most importantly, sleep. Across sports, professional athletes such as LeBron James, Usain Bolt and Roger Federer have all highlighted the importance of a 10-12 hour sleep per night to reach their highest level of performance. 

It is a well known fact that sleep decreases performance, in working life and physically, as well as decreasing mood and vigor. Lack of sleep goes as far to limit the functioning of your body; it decreases immune system functioning, releases the release of leptin and adiponectin which result in the increased likelihood of fat gain and can limit fat loss. So overwhelmingly, the importance of sleep may be greater than everyone thinks, more than just that cosy lie-in in winter just to stay just that little bit warmer.

So, we have discovered how important sleep is to a human. But adding exercise into the equation increases the need for a good nights sleep even more. Rob Hayley’s, 3 times Olympic medalists in British Cycling reported sleep to be the most important thing in his recovery, sometimes hitting over 12 hours per night! Sleep is needed to allow your body to recover and muscles to repair through protein synthesis and human growth hormone release.

The recipe for your perfect night’s sleep is something scientists call ‘sleep hygiene’. Sleep hygiene involves altering your routine and evening activities to aid a better nights sleep. These tips if followed, will hopefully increase your sleep quality and can potentially add some benefits to your daily mood and performance.

Tips for getting a great nights sleep:

  • Limit daytime naps to 30 minutes. If you are lucky enough to have a daytime nap, try not to snooze for too long. Set an alarm for 30 minutes to have a short, sharp and refreshing nap, without compromising your nights sleep.
  • Ensure you have a calm and relaxing sleep environment. Room temperature should be cool to comfortable. You should not feel cold when going to sleep, however having a cool room temperature will allow your body to relax in bed without overheating.
  • Light. When it gets to 2 hours before your bedtime, begin to dim the lights and decrease the brightness in the room. This will help your eyes to adjust to the dimmed light, and prepare your eyes and mind to sleep.
  • Avoid food consumption close to bedtime. We all know that sometimes you have to eat closer to bedtime, whether it be due to training or working late. However, eating close to going to sleep can trigger indigestion or poor digestion of food according to certain research. This can mean that your body struggles to shut off, due to your late digestion of food. Foods that are particularly spicy, rich or fried should be avoided close to bed, as well as carbonated drinks. Although not in everyone, these foods can give you heartburn when consumed so close to bedtime. 
  • Avoid caffeine and other stimulants close to bedtime. Caffeine is well known to keep you awake, get to know your body and how late you can have a coffee and still sleep well.

You will be pleased to know that one great thing that leads to a better nights sleep is….. exercise! You are already completing one of the most important factors to get a good nights sleep. Exercise is well known to increase sleep quality, especially aerobic exercise. It has to be said that strenuous exercise must be avoided be some individuals close to bedtime, as this can keep the mind awake and consequentially mean an individual struggles to enter sleep. 


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