By Mark Wood
The blanket recommendation of 6-8 hours sleep for recovery is fine, if you have the time to do it.
Let’s be a real though, if you have kids the idea of an unbroken 6 hours sleep sounds like a dream. This also applies for shift workers and even those who just struggle to get to sleep.
The thing is, that sleep is your body’s ideal time to recover. You put all this hard work into your training, and you need to repay your body so it can grow, adapt and your fitness can improve. We don’t do this stuff to drive ourselves into a hole.
A lack of sleep can affect your memory and decision making skills, decrease accuracy, increase cortisol production and increase fatigue during exercise. In short, your body replenishes itself whilst you sleep and the less you get of the deep REM sleep, the less you recover.
Dirty Sleep is as bad as a Dirty Diet!
So what can you do to improve the quality of your slumber when you can’t get much?
Keep it Cool and Dark
Your bedroom should be a place that is comfortable. Using blackout curtains to keep outside lights from affecting you, and regulating the temperature will drastically improve the quality of your sleep. Not everyone has air conditioning, so finding ways around it are important. There are pillows topped with gel that keep you cool, find a quiet fan, stick a leg out (we know you do it), just find ways to keep yourself cool at night.
It’s a bedroom
There are two main reasons we use our bedrooms. One is sleep, the other is a lot of fun. Many of us have TV’s in our room (that’s not the fun part), so we aren’t conditioning our body to see the bedroom as a place to sleep but a place to watch multiple episodes on Netflix.
Cut out electronic devices
I’m a big fan of smart phones, tablets and whatever media you have. I think it allows us to learn, interact and is not the devil to society it’s portrayed to be. I do think you need to keep it out of the bedroom. 30 mins before you let your head hit the pillow, switch it to ‘Do not disturb’ and instead sink yourself into a book or just have a chat about your day. The light emitted from most devices causes an increase in Serotonin, a hormone that wakes you up. Find a dimmer bulb for a lamp, and let your body sink into relaxation mode.
Cut the caffeine after midday
I love coffee, I also take a pre workout. However taking these too close to your bedtime can interrupt how you sleep. Ween yourself off the multiple coffees a day and you’ll feel a drastic improvement to your sleep and less reliance on stimulants to pick you up.
Download a sleep app
There’s a few great sleep apps that can measure the quality of your sleep, and also help wake you up at a better time in your sleep cycle. We should be continually cycling through multiple stages of sleep throughout the night to get the best quality. We have 2 stages of light sleep, 2 stages of deep sleep (this is where Growth Hormone is secreted) and REM sleep. Each cycle takes around 90 minutes and this app can help you measure and assess these.
So ask yourself the following:
- Is my environment comfortable?
- Is my bedroom a bedroom?
- Am I turning off devices 30 mins before bed?
- Did I cut caffeine before 2pm?
If the answer is no to any of these, you are denying yourself some good quality sleep which is vital for when you’re unable to get your 6-8 hours.