10 Hacks To A Better Night’s Sleep
As athletes, we all know the importance of getting quality sleep (and enough of it)!
Sufficient rest is crucial to letting our bodies and minds recover from the stresses of the day, allowing us to regain and build strength to continue training. So, getting the right amount of good quality sleep, ultimately improves our physical and mental performance.
Since sleep affects our performance and lives so much, many companies are creating new products and technology to help us improve our sleep. However, there are also a great bunch of simple hacks, or creative solutions, to help us get more of this vital human function.
So, here are our 10 hacks to getting the best night’s sleep you possibly can:
- Create A Sleep Routine
- Reduce Stress
- Create A Hygienic Sleeping Environment
- Reduce Electronics And Lights
- Food, Drink And Supplements
- Prioritize Sleep
- Use Sleep-Aids For Travelling Athletes
- Reduce Snoring And Sleep Apnea
- Track Sleep Patterns
- Get A Sleep Coach
Keep reading to learn how to use these hacks for a better night’s sleep.
Hack #1. Create A Sleep Routine
A Regular Bedtime Routine.
Because humans are creatures of habit, creating a bedtime routine gets our bodies and minds ready for sleep. If we do the same things every night (eg. getting ready for bed at the same time, brushing teeth, flossing, reading a book, stretching, doing yoga, writing in a diary, wearing earplugs and a sleeping mask), our bodies know that sleep is going to follow.
A Regular Morning Routine.
Once we get into a regular morning routine (and waking up at the same time), the body will automatically wake up at the time it usually does, this is the most natural way to wake.
Sleep Tech – Dawn Simulator Alarm Clock
This type of alarm clock replicates the sunrise by waking a person up within a half hour period, with a gradually brightening light. This creates a more natural way of waking, rather than suddenly waking to sound. A research study on sleep inertia prone athletes who switched to using a dawn simulation alarm (Lumie Bodyclock), resulted in the athletes waking up feeling more refreshed and alert, as well as quicker reaction times and improved performance!
Image: The Lumie Bodyclock Active 250 (image courtesy of Lumie)
Hack #2. Reduce Stress
Stress can prevent us from sleeping well because it keeps our minds active. When our minds are racing, we can end up lying in bed for hours thinking about …stuff. Not only that, stress affects the quality of our sleep.
I know stressful situations are inevitable in the modern day busy lifestyle, but there are some excellent ways to reduce stress in the mind.
This helps the body to relax and calm the mind. It takes the mind away from all the thoughts about past and future events, which can potentially keep us awake and alert.
There are many guided meditations that allow you to focus purely on breathing, relaxing the mind and body, instead of overthinking. A plethora of these can be found for free, online and in meditation podcasts and youtube videos.
Meditation Tech – Muse
If you love tech, devices such as the Muse, a computerised headband that helps you to meditate, train your attention and focus.
The 4-7-8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise
This was designed by sleep expert Dr Andrew Weil and claims to help you drift off to sleep in under 60 seconds! It involves making a whooshing noise with your mouth and holding the breath in stages.
Dr Weil states on his website that breathing “is a useful tool for achieving a relaxed and clear state of mind” and the 4-7-8 exercise is a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system”.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
“Progressive muscle relaxation is a relaxation exercise in which you systematically tense and then relax all the muscle groups of your body,” explains Phil Gehrman, PhD, clinical director of Penn Medicine’s Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program, to Everyday Health.
“It helps promote overall physical relaxation, which has a number of benefits on its own.”
Keeping a notepad beside the bed is great for writing things down while our minds are racing in bed. It allows us to jot down our thoughts, so that we can let them go for the night and pick up them up again in the morning.
Things to jot down that help us sleep better are:
A list of things we are grateful for. This creates positive thoughts and eliminates worry and stress.
What happened in the day that went well. It’s easy to forget or not give ourselves credit for our daily achievements. Writing them down gives us a sense of accomplishment, rather than thinking we didn’t do enough, resulting in stress and overthinking!
To do list
What has to be done the next day. Don’t just lay in bed thinking about what to do, write it down so that you don’t forget. Making it a task to do tomorrow, allows us to let go of it tonight and focus on sleep.
Stop doing stressful activities at least 2 hours before going to bed.
This includes working, studying, exercising, eating, doing housework, talking on the phone. Saying no to these stimulating activities allows us to go into relax mode and easier to fall to sleep.
Hack #3. Create A Hygienic Sleeping Environment
Dust can affect our breathing during sleep. It can also trigger allergic reactions like asthma, as well as causing nasal congestion and snoring.
Reduce the amount of dust in the bedroom by:
- Changing sheets regularly (at least once a week)
- Changing pillows every two years
- Changing mattresses every 10 years
- Installing filters over air conditioners
- Getting an air purifier
Research suggests that while any scent you love can help you fall asleep, there are certain smells that are naturally sleep-inducing.
Here are just a few:
Sleep Disorders Place shows us three ways to use smells:
- In your evening bath water
- Use the oil for a massage
- On a cotton ball by your bedside, on your pillow or lightly spray your sheets prior to bedtime
Cool Room Temperature (16-18°C or 60-70°F)
Being too hot can result in sweating and discomfort, alternatively, being too cold can result in shivering and contraction of the muscles. Sleeping in a room that is 16-18°C (or 60-70°F) is the best temperature for optimal sleep, suggested in this article by sleep.org.
In this article by Livestrong, it states,
“dry winter air can cause chapped skin and contribute to respiratory problems.”
By investing in an air humidifier, you can and should
“keep your bedroom humidity level around 50% year-round for the perfect balance.” Sleep.org
Other ways to create a more hygienic sleeping environment:
Soothing colours for our bedroom walls, artwork, linen etc, such as beiges, whites, and other neutral colours, can make us feel relaxed, calm and more prepared for sleep.
Decluttering and removing distractions
TV’s, computers, paperwork, training equipment, food etc do not belong in bedrooms. All these items (including general mess) create stress and unclarity in the mind. Keep it simple. Bedroom = sleep.
Blackout curtains are a great way of blocking out 100% of light coming in the cracks. They can be useful if you live in a very urban environment with street lights slipping through your bedroom blinds.
Using a sleeping mask can help block out disturbances, such as inconsiderate housemates, lights being turned on and early rising suns. The Sleep Master sleep mask is a good one.
Hack #4. Reduce Electronics and Lights
Turn off all electronics at the powerpoint
Small lights emitted by electronics have the power to stimulate the brain, promoting wakefulness and prevent the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates our circadian rhythm.
Put phone in aeroplane mode
This stops those pesky phone calls, messages and all other notifications from waking us up! Not only this, airplane mode minimizes the damaging effects of EMR (Electromagnetic Radiation).
Stop using electronics at least 2 hours before bed
These devices keep our brains stimulated and emit blue-light, messing up our circadian rhythm.
If you absolutely must use them, invest in these:
Hack #5. Food, Drink and Supplements
No drinks within 2 hours of going to bed. Doing this prevents us from having to go to the toilet in the middle of the night.
- Drink water when you wake up to rehydrate.
- Drink water during the day to prevent feeling thirsty before bed.
No coffee within 8 hours of going to bed. Caffeine can keep our minds alert and prevent us from getting to sleep.
No more than one or two standard drinks before bedtime. Alcohol acts as a stimulant during sleep and (while it may knock us out) reduces sleep quality.
Some herbal teas promote sleep such as chamomile, peppermint or valerian root
Don’t eat at least one hour before going to bed.
Eat food rich in Tryptophan, a sleep-inducing amino acid.
These foods include:
- Dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, mustard greens, swiss chard)
- Soy (beans, tofu, tamari, miso)
- Lentils & Beans (Kidney, black, pinto, navy etc)
- Cauliflower, cucumber, celery, peppers, eggplant
- Seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower) and Nuts (walnuts, cashews, almonds)
- Whole grains (oats, buckwheat, rye, bulgur)
These foods help tryptophan to reach and act on the brain.
- Vegetables, fruits and whole grains
Avoid sugary, starchy carbs.
These lead to a disturbed night’s sleep.
Try and test the following sleep-aiding supplements. Read this informative article from SuperHumanEntrepreneur.com to learn how each of them can benefit your sleep quality.
- Omega 3
- Activated Charcoal from Europe
- Vitamin D
- Raw Honey
Remember, do your supplement research, make sure they are of a high quality and check with your medical practitioner before you start using supplements.
Hack #6. Prioritize Sleep
Sleep is a fundamental part of training. As athletes, we should make sleep a part of our training routine. This means putting the same amount of effort into our training and recovery, as we do our sleep.
That’s because sleep offers many health benefits including peak athletic performance, faster reaction times, tissue repair and recovery as well as improved focus and concentration among other things.
Choose sleep over work.
It’s easy to get stuck into work at night, saying to ourselves “I need to get this done”, when we really should be getting sleep. Having sleep deficit or feeling fatigued yet training regardless, is a quick way to end up overtrained and injured. The body’s ability to increase performance from hard training sessions is drastically decreased when you have not had necessary sleep and recovery time. Keep this in mind when you’re still in front of the computer and it’s past your usual bedtime.
Sleep deficit is the time ‘owing’ from lack of sleep. So if we missed our usual 8 hours of sleep the previous night, this means we technically owe ourselves the missed amount for our bodies to be back at optimal levels.
Napping allows us to make up for this sleep deficit.
- Take naps at your lowest level of alertness, usually 7-8 hours after waking (1-3pm).
- Nap for 20-60 minutes, without using an alarm clock. If you naturally go over, it means your need more sleep at night.
Don’t be afraid to catch up on those missed hours. Your body, mind and overall physical and mental performance will be much better off for it.
Hack #7. Sleep-Aids For Travelling Athletes
Designed by sleep expert, Nick Littlehales (more about him in Hack #10: Get A Sleep Coach)
The Sleep Kit was initially designed for Olympic athletes and had extensive use during the London 2012 Olympics. These kits consist of a series of ‘top of the line’ lightweight mattress layers, pillow and case, as well as its very own carry pack. It can be used by any traveling athlete wishing to have the opportunity to carry a familiar sleeping system with them to allow them to gain rest and recover (especially if injured) between events.
Images: The Sleepkit R90 & the book ‘Sleep’ by Nick Littlehales (images courtesy of Sport Sleep Coach)
The Human Charger A.K.A. Light ear buds
This may sound like a crazy space age invention, however, studies are showing that exposure or lack of exposure to light at different periods of the day can directly affect our sleep patterns. This can be a huge problem for traveling athletes who may experience jet lag before competing.
Finnish company Valkee are spearheading research based around the concept of the human body having multiple points other than the retina that has light receptors, 2 points specifically being within the ear. The light emitting ear buds directly project light into the ear where it is thought these receptors receive the light and help to adjust the bodies regular sleep patterns.
Hack #8. Reduce Snoring and Sleep Apnea
Snoring can be a common cause of sleep loss. Often we may be doing it without even realising, especially if we are living alone. Luckily, there are a number of cheap fixes that can assist in a better night’s sleep if you are someone that snores.
Sleep Apnea is a medical problem. Though it is linked with snoring, it can have a number of underlying issues. If you suspect that this may be a problem for you, it is recommended that you see your doctor.
Hack #9. Track Sleep Patterns
When we train, we do it with full understanding of the effect we want each session to have on our bodies. We need to understand our sleep patterns in the same way as they are equally as important as any training session you commence.
Keep a diary
By keeping a diary of these patterns, we will be able to quickly see any trends. Sleep may be influenced by our training habits, lifestyle changes or other external factors. This allows us to make adjustments and improve our sleep.
Sleep tracking apps
There are a variety of sleep phone apps to analyze one’s sleep. They can track our movements (and/or sounds) to determine the quality of our sleep, as well as determine the best time to wake us (within a half hour period), making sure we are in the lightest part of our circadian cycle.
A few of the popular sleep tracking apps are:
Track Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
Tracking our HRV when we wake up and/or go to bed is another great way to follow how your overall rhythms are going. Read our article on HRV to learn more about why it’s important and how to track it.
For a device that tracks your fatigue on the go then check out the Fatigue Science ReadiBand 4. Designed by the US Army Special Forces, this device is designed to continuously monitor fatigue levels. This tech is great for coaches of athletic teams to track and analyse their team’s sleep and fatigue, potentially providing a competitive edge.
Hack #10. Get A Sleep Coach
If you want even more than the DIY hacks for getting a better quality sleep, there are currently a number of sleep coaches, that offer guidance for adults who may suffer from a variety of sleep disorders. Some sleep coaches offer these services specifically for athletes.
Mentioned earlier in this article, Nick Littlehales, who is regarded as the leading elite sports sleep coach in world sport.
He has “over 30 years experience in the world of sleep, sleeping habits, and product design and over 15 years dedicated to elite athletes and professional sport.” – Sport Sleep Coach website
Littlehales has many clients ranging from a variety of elite sporting teams to large corporate businesses.
If you are an athlete that responds well under a Personal Trainer then this may be a great option for you. A referral from your doctor to a sleep clinic will have you quickly on your way to resolving your sleep issues and have you competing at your best.
Letting a professional take the guess work out of your sleep training could lead you to the best night’s sleep of your life.
Give these 10 sleep hacks a go and you are bound to not only get a better quality sleep, but the right amount, resulting in sufficient recovery and improved physical and mental performance.
Never underestimate the power of quality sleep!