When it comes to athletic training, rest is just as important as any drills, circuits or intervals you do out in the field. No matter how hard you work during your training, your body cannot achieve gains or make progress if you’re not getting enough sleep throughout the night.
Fatigue results in several consequences for athletes, from injury recovery to reaction times while in motion. A lack of sleep can also result in mood swings, difficulty maintaining stamina and increased risk of both acute and chronic illnesses, which can make it hard to stick to a consistent workout regimen.
As an athlete, high-quality, restful sleep is essential for a solid performance. Though it’s challenging to achieve adequate sleep at times, it’s a good idea to take steps to improve both the quality and duration of your sleep so you can show up with your best on training days.
Athletics require a great deal of energy, particularly if your chosen sport requires a boost of endurance or strength to perform. Many athletes rely on caffeine and pre-workout supplements for energy, which can help to sustain elevated energy levels while engaged in physical activity.
However, stimulants taken too close to bedtime can make it hard to fall asleep at night. Caffeine has a half-life of six hours, which means half of the substance metabolizes within a six-hour period. If you fuel your late afternoon or evening practices and workouts with caffeine-loaded drinks or supplements, you could be interfering with your sleep.
If it feels as though you rely on caffeine in order to keep your energy up during the day or through your coaching sessions, it may be time to consider alternative therapies and solutions. Some athletes find other options, such as a testosterone booster or vitamin supplement, beneficial to increasing energy levels. Head to the doctor for a checkup or consider additional possibilities, as your system may simply be lacking in certain vitamins, minerals or hormones.
Tailor Your Environment
Many people use their bedroom for a variety of purposes. Though it can be tempting to cozy up with your laptop in bed to watch a movie or use your bedroom as a workspace, sleep experts recommend you take those activities elsewhere. It’s important that your system associates your bedroom with sleep, so when it’s time to hit the pillow, your body knows it’s time to wind down and get some shuteye.
In addition to reserving your room for sleep and rest, it’s crucial that your sleep environment is conducive to quality rest. Determine the ideal temperature, lighting and noise level for optimal sleep. Ideally, your bedroom should be dark, quiet and cool, kept between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
You may need to invest in blackout curtains, an eye mask, a white noise machine, earplugs or a Bluetooth speaker if you find the room needs any adjustments. These investments will not only make it easier to both fall and stay asleep, but they will also facilitate a solid night of rest and recovery so your body can hit the ground running the next day when it’s time to get back into practice.
Watch Your Workouts
While you may walk away from your training regimen fatigued and exhausted, exercise has an energizing effect that lasts hours after you shower and move on with your day. Exercise performed too close to your bedtime may interfere with your ability to wind down and turn your brain off for the night.
However, vigorous daily exercise is known to improve sleep quality by triggering deeper sleep and fewer nighttime wakeups. Perform only light to moderate workouts at night, and save highly intense routines for earlier in the day. Keep in mind that exercise of any intensity should cease no later than three hours before bed.
Stick to a Routine
Though there are many reasons it can be difficult to fall asleep at night, it often has to do with your bedtime routine. Bedtime routines are not just for children. In fact, a consistent bedtime routine can provide valuable signals to your system that it’s time to wind down and enter a state of restfulness.
When you design a bedtime routine, select a bedtime that will allow you to achieve between seven and nine hours of sleep throughout the night. About 20 to 30 minutes before you plan to climb into bed, select a few relaxing activities that will help you wind down, such as reading, stretching, listening to music or meditation.
Your bedtime routine should feel like a ritual you can look forward to each night. Avoid thinking about work and other stressors and focus simply on relieving tension and becoming as relaxed as possible. Just as it takes time to see results on the field during athletic training, it may take time to train your body to respond to a new bedtime schedule. Stick with it, and soon your system will grow accustomed to your new, soothing rituals.
Use Light Exposure Responsibly
Because your body considers light as a signal that it’s time to be alert and awake, too much blue light, or any light source, close to bedtime can interfere with the natural mechanisms and cycles your system relies on to regulate your sleep-wake rhythms. When the sun goes down, try to avoid the use of electronics as much as possible, but especially within the last 30 minutes before it’s time for bed.
Alternatively, light exposure can help you to wake up in the morning hours, which can be especially helpful for those with early morning workouts. Throw open the curtains when you first wake up to let the sunlight stream into your space and boost the awake and alert phase of your circadian rhythm. If the sun hasn’t risen when you rise, turn on bright artificial lights for a similar impact.
Make It Comfortable
Without a quality mattress, soft sheets and blankets and appropriate pillows for your sleep position, you may wake up with frustrating soreness that has nothing to do with how hard you trained the day before. Comfortable and supportive bedding can mean the difference between a good night’s rest and a night spent tossing and turning due to discomfort.
Get to know your sleep position and postures, including any important details about your personal pressure points, spinal alignment and areas that may need additional support while you sleep. The right mattress, pillows and blankets should be firm enough to provide relief for your bones, muscles and joints while you rest without contributing to aches and pains that could interfere with your training.
Proper sleep is just as important as your diet and exercise regimen. High-quality sleep can go a long way in improving your athletic performance and allow you to reach your goals quicker and more easily when your body has the recovery time it needs to heal and get stronger.
Even the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL know the importance of good sleep for their players' performance and recovery. Learn more here.