If you want to reap the rewards of your hard training, and maximise your performance on the big day, then consistently getting restful sleeps is a must. This not only applies to athletes, but a quality sleep is required for brain power and concentration, two vital components for anyone who wants to be fit and healthy and perform their day to day activities effectively.
The search for a good sleep can be harder than you might expect, and indeed you may not even realise that you are not getting a restful sleep until you actually have one! Waking up fresh and ready to go for the new day is a key sign that you have rejuvenated your body and mind during your sleep, and this is what you should strive to achieve. If you are a dedicated trainer, you should know that the healing, recovery, and adaptation that happens during consistent restful sleep will outweigh that of expensive supplements, or other ergogenic aids that are marketed so heavily. You already know the difference between your own performances when your tired compared to when you are rested. The next level of performance is right at your fingertips if you can just get the key that will open the door to a deep and restful slumber.
So without further ado, here are 12 tips that are proven to bring you closer to a muscle repairing, brain relaxing, and concentration building sleep.
1. Plan the next day in advance
Having a plan for the next day in place before you enter your bedroom will help you have a clear mind as you begin to turn the engine off for the night. If you already know what you are going to do the next day, you are less likely to lie in bed planning the logistics and challenges of the next day, and you will be one step closer to the land of nod.
2. Do a brain dump:
This ties in with point 1. If you have trouble sleeping due to thoughts and feelings filling your head at night time, get a piece of paper and write down everything that comes to mind for 3 minutes or so. This is a great brain clearing exercise, and will actually allow you to filter the thoughts in your head and allow you to concentrate on the most relevant things while discarding the useless when the time comes. However, the purpose of this exercise is to clear the mind, so get the thought onto paper and clear the mind. You can even draw a spider diagram of a chart if you are so inclined!
3. Use dim light or candle light at night:
Candle light can be very relaxing and calming, and taking advantage of this can help the mind relax. Where the mind goes, the body follows, so get the candles lit in the bedroom and unwind before you hop into the cot. If candles are not your thing, you can turn on your bedside lamp and let it sit on the floor next to your bed to reduce the light in the room.
4. Avoid blue light at night:
Blue light from laptops, smartphones, and TV’s disrupt the body’s rhythm. Not so long ago, humans lived in relative dimness at night time, and in accordance with other diurnal mammals, went to sleep when it was dark. Obviously light has become more common at night time with the introduction of electiricity, but the more recent boom in electrical equipment such as the aboved mentioned devices means that we are now far more exposed to ‘blue light’ than before. Blue light exposure at night time has been closely linked with restless sleep, and a whole host of other diseases such as cancer and diabetes but to name a few. This Harvard article gives a closer insight to the case against blue light at night, and recommends that it is avoided in the 2-3 hours leading to your bed time.
5. Wind down, not up:
Imagine that your body is an old steam engine, and at night you want the engine to slow down and eventually stop for the night. If you are stimulating your body, it’s the equivalent of shovelling coal into the fire of the steam engine, and causing it to build up speed, driving forward like your late for mass! At night, stop shovelling the coal into the engine. Avoid things that get you going, and do things that make you relax and untangle. Taking a hot bath with Epsom salts can be very relaxing for the muscles, and if you combine this with some candlelight and soft music, or a bit of light reading, then your engine will slowly come to a halt for a peaceful rest.
6. Avoid Caffeine in the evening/ night time:
Up until now, this article has concentrated on things that you can change in the exterior environment to get ready for a good snooze. What you take in also has a major effect on the system. As caffeine is a stimulant, avoiding it in the evening and night time means that you will allow your body to wind down, and avoid late night pacing and sheep counting to try to get yourself to doze off. The most common sources of caffeine include coffee, green and black tea, coca cola, and energy drinks.
7. Eat small at night:
Restricting your night time snacks to small amounts of low sugar/ high protein foods such as eggs, cottage cheese, or warm milk will allow your to side-step the energy boosting side effects of sugary snacks, as well as kicking the late night hunger pang to the curb. Keeping portions small will prevent your digestive system going into overdrive and keeping you awake, and the high protein nature of your snack will help your muscles recover throughout the night.
8. Exercise during the day:
This point seems so obvious I nearly did not include it, but getting exercise in during the day is so important in far more ways that we can imagine. As well as keeping the heart and lungs in good working order, maintaining a healthy body composition, and keeping the joints and bones healthy, a daily dose of exercise will give you a release of feel good hormones and contribute to a fulfilling and satisfying day. All the above mentioned will allow you to drift off to a content sleep while looking forward to the challenges that the next day will bring.
9. Get some fresh air:
Getting outside for a few moments before you climb the stairs to your bedroom can help you clear the head and get some fresh oxygen into the blood stream and into the muscles. Heading around the block for a short stroll after dinner time will also aid digestion and as we know from number 7, this is good for sleep!
10. Install blackout curtains in your bedroom
If you live in the city, street lights can light your bedroom all night round, and if your are a country dwelling being, strong moonlight on clear nights can be more like a high sun when you are trying to drift off. This point was really highlighted for me when I recently stayed in a hotel that had blackout curtains that turned the bedroom into a cave. I woke up refreshed and ready to go, and have since installed blackout curtains in my own bedroom. The blackout curtains are also very handy for quick naps as you can have instant darkness in your bedroom.
Stretching the muscles before bedtime can help release some of the tension that you have gathered throughout the course of the day. Hip flexors can get tight, shoulders, glutes, and hamstrings can also feel the brunt of a day of hard work or sitting. 10 minutes foam rolling and 10 minutes stretching can really make a big difference at night time, and if you concentrate on your breathing while stretching, you will really feel the benefits when you are ready to go to sleep.
12. Turn of electrical equipment
As well as saving on the electricity bill and reducing the possibility of a mini mid-sleep bedroom bonfire, turning off electrical equipment has been shown to allow you to get a better sleep. Mobile phones can especially affect your sleep, and should be turned off. This study also highlights a link between late night use of electrical equipmnent and obesity!
Breathing is mostly seen as a subconscious thing that we need to do to survive, and normally we don’t pay it much thought. However, by turning your attention to your breath, and focusing on getting big deep breaths (in the nose) into the lungs and letting it out slowly (out the mouth), you will start to relax and feel calmer. Try 20 deep breaths while lying on your back on the floor before getting into bed, and you will have a clear head and a relaxed body that will help you get a good night of shut eye in.