Let’s Talk About SLEEP!: Better nap-letes make better athletes

by Peter Spina
Let’s Talk About SLEEP!: Better nap-letes make better athletes

*Beep* *Beep* Alarm goes off at 6:00 am. In my sleepy state, I hit snooze.

6:15 am. *Beep* *Beep* Alright, alright, I’m up.

With every ounce of energy I have, I open my eyes and start my morning routine. Once my breakfast has been eaten, teeth are brushed, body is clothed, and my cat Garth has been fed and sufficiently cuddled, I make my way out the door with an extra-large thermos full of my sweet life-giving caffeinated elixir – orange pekoe tea with a touch of honey and almond milk – in hand.

I arrive at work groggily and chug my tea until I feel like a human being.

And then I open a new Word document and begin a blog post about Sleep Hygiene…

Hello Athletes,

Here’s a blog post about sleep hygiene written by a fellow sleep-deprived half-zombie, half-human. Although, trust me, in the process of researching and writing this blog post, I have convinced myself that this is something I need to get under control! 

In this post, we’ll talk about why sleep is important and 4 steps for how we can all become better nap-letes to become better athletes!

The Importanzzz of Sleep

Contrary to popular belief, sleep is not for the weak! Sleep is for the strong!

Sleep plays an important role in your overall health and well-being. While you sleep, your body is anything but inactive. During this time, your body enters its “night-shift” – damaged cells are repaired, your immune system gets a boost, hormones that are essential for growth and development are released, and you recover from the day’s activities.

During REM sleep – Rapid Eye Movement – we dream and important mental processes take place: our minds process and consolidate emotions, memories, and stress.

And when it comes to athletics, more sleep has been linked to maximized athletic performance. For instance, a study on basketball players associated extended sleep times with faster sprint times, better shooting accuracy, faster reaction times, and less fatigue!

Interruptions to our sleep cycles – whether it’s due to external disturbances, snoring, difficulties breathing, or other issues – can disturb these important processes that happen when we snooze. Such disturbances can impact our overall health and affect our day after waking – hello, Mr/Ms Cranky Pants!

Which is WHY we should all implement some tips and tricks for sleeping better, longer, and with less interruptions! Here are a few things you can do to get the maximum rest!

1.  Set the mood…

Oh yea, turn the lights down low and get yourself in the mood for some… sleep! Where was your mind going?!

But for real: reducing your exposure to electrical light leading up to bedtime can help you fall asleep. Light can affect your melatonin levels and make it harder to fall asleep. As well, if you wake up in the middle of the night, try not to check your phone or turn on the lights if your goal is to fall back asleep.

Investing in blackout curtains and covering bright lights, for example from digital clock faces, can also help you go to sleep and stay asleep!

2. Learn to live without coffee for 6 hours

Caffeine reaches peak levels in your blood in 30-60 min after being consumed and has a half-life of 3-5 hours. So considering that, scientists suggest the 6 hours (at least) before bedtime should be considered the No-Go-Caffeine-Zone!

Well, I made up that name, but essentially, that’s what they are saying in this study by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

3. Bring a book to bed – not your phone

Screens use blue wavelengths, which suppress melatonin and shift circadian rhythms. Meanwhile, books produce no blue wavelengths at all!

We’ve already talked about how light affects your sleep, but also consider what thoughts and feelings you are bringing to bed when you head to sleep with your phone in hand: work emails that remind you of all the work you have to do tomorrow, social media posts that make you feel like high school acquaintances are living glamourous lives, and not to mention all the YouTube and Reddit and Instagram portals that can easily take you for a 2 hour ride.

Anyways. I’m not a technology-hating Luddite curmudgeon who hates the internet. But, I do see great value in bringing a book to bed to read, or, better yet, a notebook!

3.5 Better yet, bring a notebook!

This leads into another tip. Bringing a notebook and pen to bed can be an awesome way to wrap up your day. Especially if you don’t sleep well because you’re thinking of the day that happened or the one that’s coming tomorrow, grab a pen and allow yourself 10-15 minutes to write down everything running through your mind.

Tell yourself, “Ok mind. Now’s your time to let it all out!” And then put down the pen at 15 min. Your fretting/worry/over-thinking period is over. Remind yourself: it is bedtime. There is nothing you can do about it now, and a good night’s sleep will make you well-rested and help you attack tomorrow’s issues head-on!

Let it all out and then allow yourself to close this day off and begin a new one tomorrow!

4. Try the 4-7-8 breathing exercise

Focusing on your breath and slowing down your breathing is an exercise you can do during the day to calm down and while falling asleep to help relax your mind and body. It’s free, simple, and takes seconds to do.

Here’s a video of Dr. Andrew Weil demonstrating it and talking about its benefits. First you place the tip of your tongue against the top of your mouth, touching it to the back of your top front teeth. Exhale completely.

Then, close your mouth and inhale through your nose for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for 7 seconds. Exhale completely out of your mouth making a WHOOSH – not quite forcefully, but intentionally – for 8 seconds.

Do this sequence 4 times while you're lying in bed trying to catch z's, or throughout the day when you need to catch your breath. You might feel a little light-headed the first few times you try it. But you will also feel relaxed, mellow, and a post-great-nap-like feeling when you're done the sequence!

Try them out!

Of course, you can do many other things – buy a fancy new mattress; change your eating habits; control the noise in your sleeping area; or, you know, get rid of every stress in your life that keeps you up at night.  Easy, right?

But sleep and the science of sleep is quite complicated and mysterious, and the tips I provided are really the only actions I – a blogger for an online fitness equipment retailer – can realistically help you with!

So give them a shot! And get some lovely sleep for your muscles, your brain, and to improve your overall health and wellness.

Get at it, NAP-LETES! Today’s workout is Sleep for time starting in 3 – 2 – 1  Zzzzz…