Anabolic hormones aren’t solely restricted to soviet sprinters and Mr Olympia contestants. You too can get your fair share, but in a legal and more ethical way! Sleep is the most effective natural means of recovery.
- Repairing damaged muscles
- Processing memories and cementing learning
- Restoring your immune system
- Replenishing energy levels
- Restructuring your bones and soft tissue
- Healing niggling injuries
And there are more benefits too! So, why would you restrict yourself to such a vital asset?
It is actually very rare to find someone that can perform adequately on much less sleep than normal requirements. If someone says to you “I only need 5 hours of sleep per night” then they’re either talking nonsense or not performing anywhere near to their full capacity. It has been proven that there are variations in requirements between populations – if you and your family are from the northernmost part of Scotland then your body will actually require more sleep in the winter months compared to the summer. However, you can’t “train” your body to cope with fewer hours than it needs.
Interesting sleep facts:
- Deep Sleep occurs most in the early stages of the night and is essential for repair work within your immune system and the peak production growth hormone.
- Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep dominates in the later stages of sleep and is responsible for processing memories and information. This is when learning becomes cemented.
- It takes about 90 minutes to do a complete sleep cycle and the ratio of Deep to REM Sleep varies throughout evening. Staying up late and missing the prime Deep Sleep zone means you may become deficient in it (even if you sleep in in the morning!)
- Your body’s desire for sleep can vary throughout the year. In winter your body will be craving more. Stress and training load can also increase your sleep requirements.
Your working day, family commitments, love of sport and so much more can all result in shortened sleep time, even if the reason is to just fit everything in. However, perhaps one of the biggest recent contributors to the population’s sleep “crisis” is the abundance of digital stimulation with artificial light. This stimulation can result in increased levels of stress hormones which can hinder the good “hormone of darkness” – melatonin. This is the hormone that induces sleep and is popular within sleeping pills (we advise you stay clear of sleeping pills unless it is absolutely necessary).
It is inevitable that at some point you will experience a sleep deficiency. We’re not all professional athletes and can’t take 2 hour daytime naps like Paula Radcliffe, but there are some strategies that we can all implement to ensure we get just the right amount of Zzzzz’s for our body to perform at its optimum level.
Top sleep tips:
- Bin the alarm. You shouldn’t need it. Go to bed early enough so that you wake up naturally at the time you need to wake up. Try to create the best schedule (we recommend trying this at the weekend or during a holiday so you don’t turn up late for work!)
- Ideally get in close alignment with your circadian rhythm. The rising and setting of the sun signify the times to start and end your day.
- Don’t artificially lengthen your day with artificial light after dark. The blue light produced by your smartphone and lamps should be reduced as much as possible. Try reading by candlelight (a nice orange light is what we’re after). Don’t look at your phone after a certain time but, if you have to, invest in some glasses with orange lenses that block out the blue light spectrum (or get a blue light filter app for your device – far less cool!)
- Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon. This is a STIMULANT – no more needs to be said!
- Avoid alcohol. Yes it is a depressant and yes it can make you fall asleep quicker but it will significantly inhibit your REM sleep, leaving you feeling groggy and unfocused in the morning.
- Avoid exercising too soon before bedtime. Exercise increases your levels of stress hormones which impacts your melatonin production.
- Make changes to your sleep environment – reduce clutter, take the TV out of your bedroom, keep your workstation separate, chuck those piles of bills in the bin. We just need bare minimum.
- Pitch darkness is required for optimal sleep. Some studies have shown that a single beam of light behind the knee (yes, the knee!) can repress melatonin production.
- Eat a small low carb, high protein meal as your last meal before bedtime.
- The “sleep for 8 hours” advice that you have undoubtedly read is not based on any strong scientific evidence. As mentioned previously, sleep requirements depend on many factors.
- Competition. Research has shown that it is a consistent build-up of sleep deprivation and not a lack of sleep in the night before a race that will have a detrimental effect on your physical performance. Go to bed at a normal time and have everything prepared for the morning. If you are worried about forgetting something then write it down. Acknowledge that nerves are fine. Try to understand what you are nervous about – it’s probably pretty likely you can’t change whatever it is whilst you’re lying in bed the day before a race, so it can probably wait for the morning.
There is one more top sleep tip that deserves it’s own section. The next post will be on the benefits of napping. We hope you’re still awake!