Humans need sleep; that’s a fact. Just like food and oxygen, the body can’t function without it – and just like food and oxygen, it’s particularly important for those concerned with athletic performance. With no sleep you’ll have no energy, and no chance of being at your best when you need to be. Furthermore, not getting enough sleep will leave you struggling to recover properly from your training sessions – and forget Mont Ventoux, that’s what we call a vicious cycle!
The good old adage of ”eight hours a night” can seem like a pipe dream for anyone juggling work, training and everyday life – but just a few simple steps could vastly increase the amount of Z’s you could catch! And if you think that’s surprising in itself, just wait until you see the difference it makes to your mood, hunger, energy levels and overall wellbeing.
From the obvious to the obscure, here are a few small changes that could make a big difference:
- Monitor your caffeine intake: You might not notice how those cups of coffee throughout the day add up, but it could be the reason you’re not sleeping well at night. One of the biggest culprits when it comes to disturbed sleep patterns, caffeine isn’t just about mugs of joe, but also teas and fizzy drinks. Try reducing your caffeine intake by limiting yourself to one morning fix, then switching to decaf. If at all possible, avoid caffeine entirely after 4pm; the half-life of caffeine means that it can stay in your system for up to eight hours. So yeah, find a new way around that afternoon slump…
- Reduce your screen time: We’re surrounded by phones, computers, tablets and tellies; an endless stream of screens! And while you’ve probably heard that screen use is linked to dodgy sleep, you might not understand why. Well, in short: light emitted from these screens affects ability to produce melatonin, a substance inextricably linked with your sleep/wake cycle (circadian rhythm, if you want to get fancy about it!). Your boss won’t be happy if you refuse to use your computer for the day, but there’s ample opportunity to reduce come evening time; try moving away from screens at least an hour before bed and pick up a book instead.
- Apps: If you’re struggling to switch off when the lights do, a number of apps specialising in meditation and calming techniques can help that journey to the land of nod. Calm might not have the most inventive name but is extremely popular, and even mindfulness focused offerings like Headspace are also proving a hit. And if an in-depth analysis of your in-bed time is more your thing, apps like Sleep Cycle will tell you more about the kind of sleep you’re getting every night.
- Supplementation: A number of natural supplements known to assist sleep are available if the above just aren’t doing the trick. ZMA (Zinc Magnesium Aspartate) is a popular supplement with athletes, readily available from any nutritional websites and health shops. Zinc is a known immune system booster, while magnesium also plays a role in metabolism and sleep management. Other natural sleep remedies include the classic drop of lavender on your pillow, as well as a number of teas; Valerian Root Extract is popular, while others find Camomile to be just the tonic.