If you are reading this in the evening and your alarm is due to go off in less than 8 hours then please stop, go to bed, and come back to it tomorrow. As much as I want you to read it I value your sleep and health more.
Adults need an average of 8 hours a sleep a night (varies from 7 to 9). Children and adolescents need more. The negative effects of getting less than this form a very long and scary list. The effects are both physical and psychological and multiply exponentially with repeated or regular poor sleep.
It is beyond the scope of this blog to go into all of these effects in detail, and I will hold my hand up now and say I am not a sleep expert, but this is a deservedly hot topic at the moment and a lot of research into this area shows both the negative effects of reduced or poor sleep and the positive effects of good ‘sleep hygiene’ and good volume of sleep.
To give you an idea of the value of sleep, here a few findings from some recent studies:
Athletes sleeping less than 8 hours a night are 1.7 times more likely to get injured than those sleeping over 8 hours
Sleeping less than 7 hours a night reduces cognitive ability and short term memory processing – mental fatigue is associated with higher perceived exertion when exercising
Sleeping less than 5 hours in a night increases risk of catching a cold by 450%
Human growth hormone (vital for recovery and adaptation to training) is produced when we are in certain phases of deep sleep
Blue light LED (such as phone and laptop screens) exposure reduces melatonin production up to 22%
Sleeping MORE than 8 hours a night reduces the risk of injury by 61%
This list could go on and on, the message here is very clear. If you want to maximise your training and performance and minimise your risk of injury it is important to value sleep and get enough of it.
If you have a sleep disorder or think you have one then the best advice is to see a sleep specialist. However, there are lots of things you can try for yourself that have been shown to help improve sleep quality and volume. Here is a checklist you can work through and try:
Routine – stick to a schedule – humans are creatures of habit. Sleeping longer at a weekend to try and make up for lack of sleep during the week doesn’t work and will make getting up on a Monday harder. Set an alarm for bedtime and try and stick to the same routine 7 days a week as much as possible.
Exercise – it is great but try not to do it in the 2-3 hours before going to bed as higher body temperature will make it harder to initiate sleep.
Avoid caffeine and nicotine. Caffeine can take up to 8 hours to wear off. Nicotine is a stimulant and causes people to sleep lighter.
Avoid alcohol before bed, it limits REM sleep, and you will often wake more regularly during the night.
Dark/Cool/Gadget free bedroom. Get rid of any distractions and make the room as dark as possible. On average humans sleep best at around 18 degrees so don’t have the heating on too high.
Avoid large meals and large drinks before bed.
Check with your doctor or pharmacist in any medications you currently take will affect your sleep.
Don’t take naps after 3pm – they can make harder for you to fall asleep at night.
Relax before bed – use reading or music to help unwind.
Take a hot bath/shower – on getting out your body temperature will drop and can help to fall asleep.
During the day try and get outside and expose yourself to natural light/sunlight for at least 30 minutes
Don’t lie in bed awake. If you are getting anxious about not being able to sleep get up and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy.
These tips are adapted from a book called ‘Why We Sleep’ by Matthew Walker and I would highly recommend reading it.
Obviously we can’t stick to these things all the time but if you can try and use these tips and form some new habits with them it will lead to better sleep and therefore better health and improved running performance with lower injury risk.
As always thanks for reading, feel free to email me with any questions or feedback. My email is email@example.com or you can find me on twitter or Instagram @quinnphysio