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Tips for sleep and how to optimise yours

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

Getting enough sleep is essential for your overall health and well-being. On top of providing you with the necessary energy and state of mind to go about your day, your sleep helps you to improve physical performance during exercise and training, and reduces the risk of injury and illness in athletes. In this article, we offer a number of tips for sleep, helping you to get more from your shut eye. Plus, we include some helpful sleep apps which go above and beyond the typical sleep advice that might not be working for you.




How does sleep impact exercise and training?


Sleep and exercise are closely related - that's no secret. Getting enough sleep is crucial for improving cognitive function, mood, and motivation, while a lack of sleep negatively impacts one's mental and physical health. Experts generally recommend that adults sleep at least seven to nine hours per night, making quality sleep a critical part of a healthy lifestyle. But as well as being beneficial for your everyday functioning, sleep is crucial for optimum physical performance during exercise and training. Here's how:


Adequate sleep has been shown to help motivate people to stick to their exercise plans and work out the following day.


Additionally, studies show that sufficient sleep can improve sprinting speed, hitting accuracy, and work output in athletes.


Chronic sleep deprivation increases the risk of injury and illness in athletes, while a lack of sleep also negatively impacts exercise recovery.


All in all, it's important that you get your beauty sleep every night, especially if you're hoping to gain the absolute most that you can from your training sessions, whether in the gym, on the field or on the track.


Unfortunately however, some people do experience issues with their sleep. Insomnia and sleep apnea are two common sleep issues - with as many as 10% of people experiencing the former to some extent within their lifetimes. In this article, we offer some tips for sleep as well as some helpful apps that can help you combat your sleep issues. In turn, you'll be optimising your training sessions and taking your fitness and health to new levels!


sleep bed image

Tips for optimising sleep


Many people are able to fix their sleep issues with some simple sleep hygiene (the meaning of the term isn't what it sounds). Sleep hygiene isn't about having a shower before bed (although that can help!). It actually refers to healthy sleep habits and behaviours that individuals can practice to improve their ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, leading to better overall sleep quality. This can be anything from reading, avoiding screens or drinking less alcohol.


Next, we cover some of these simple steps you can take and help you sleep better, from tonight!


Increase exposure to light (during the day)


Your circadian rhythm is a natural timekeeper that regulates your brain, body, and hormones to stay awake and sleep on time. Bright light exposure during the day, preferably sunlight, can help maintain and improve your circadian rhythm. Get enough light in the day and this will positively affect your daytime energy as well as sleep quality.


Decrease blue light exposure (at night)


Whilst daytime light exposure is beneficial for your circadian rhythm, nighttime light exposure has the opposite effect. Watch TV or scroll through TikTok for too long at night and you'll begin disrupting the release of sleep-inducing hormones such as melatonin. In turn, this confuses the brain, signalling that it is still daytime. Reduce your blue light exposure by using blue light blocking glasses or software like f.lux for computers and smartphones - two hours before bed time.


Consume less caffeine


Caffeine is our best friend when it comes to boosting energy, focus, and sometimes even athletic performance. However, having a coffee late in the day can hinder your body's natural ability to relax at night by stimulating your nervous system. Next time you're having an afternoon coffee, remember that caffeine can remain in your bloodstream for 6-8 hours.


Avoid napping


Short power naps can be beneficial - that's for sure. However, long or irregular daytime naps can negatively impact your sleep quality, confusing your internal clock. If it's necessary for you to take naps in the day - perhaps due to daytime tiredness or lack of sleep at night - napping for 30 minutes or less can enhance brain function. If you need to take one, do, but if you can hold off, you'll be increasing your sleep drive for when you go to bed at night.


Stay consistent


Your body's circadian rhythm follows a natural loop that aligns with the sunrise and sunset. In order to keep your body's natural rhythm going, maintain a consistent sleep and waking pattern. In the long term, you'll improve your long-term sleep quality. It might take time to get used to this pattern, but after a few weeks, waking up and going to bed at regular times may become a habit and even eliminate the need to use an alarm!


Decrease alcohol consumption


Whilst you might feel that a glass of wine makes you sleep easy at night, consuming alcohol in the evening can harm both your hormone levels and sleep quality. In fact, alcohol can induce and exacerbate sleep apnea, snoring, and even causes interruptions in the sleep cycle. It also changes the production of melatonin at night, which is crucial for the body's circadian rhythm. In search of better sleep quality? Try reducing your alcohol consumption and totally avoid alcohol at least a few days per week.


Don't eat too late


Late night snacking can have a detrimental effect on both sleep quality and the natural production of HGH and melatonin. As can heavy meals eaten within the few hours before you sleep. However, the quality and type of food can also have an impact. Try eating your dinner a little earlier, or avoid your evening snack and you might find that your sleep improves.


Take a hot shower


It is commonly suggested that having a hot shower promotes better sleep. Research suggests that it can enhance overall sleep quality and even hasten the time it takes for people, to fall asleep. In a study, participants who took hot baths 90 minutes before going to bed had better sleep quality and more deep sleep. Prefer to shower in the morning? It might be time to reconsider (or do both).


Get some exercise


Been slacking when it comes to your morning runs? If you suffer with sleep problems, it might be time to get active. Regular exercise can improve both overall health and sleep quality. Studies show it reduces symptoms of insomnia and is effective in enhancing all aspects of sleep. Be careful though, performing exercise too late in the day may cause sleep problems due to its stimulatory effects - so try to avoid anything to strenuous in the two hours before you sleep.


sleep apps

Apps for optimising sleep


Those having real trouble sleeping often find that simple 'sleep hygiene' tips don't quite do the job. This is especially true for those suffering from insomnia. It can be super frustrating to read countless blogs about drinking less caffeine and having a hot shower if you truly struggle with your sleep, because ultimately if you do have a life altering problem with your sleep, these little tips don't always work. It's kind of like prescribing chamomile tea for someone with chronic anxiety. It doesn't target the root of the problem.


Fortunately, thanks to our smartphones, there are a number of great, scientifically informed apps that you can lean on for real help with your sleep.


Before you download an app, you'll need to know exactly what it is you need help with. Do you have trouble falling asleep? Perhaps you need help staying asleep? Maybe you don't wake up feeling refreshed. Once you've settled on what it is you need, you can find help in one (or more) of the following apps.


Headspace


For those finding it hard to sleep or feeling anxious at the thought of a sleepless night, Headspace could be the key. Headspace offers guided meditations for reducing generalised anxiety as well as "sleepcasts"; 45-55 minute audio experiences that offer visualisations of calming scenes. The innovative app provides new stories each night, and upgrading to the paid version gives access to more than 40 themed meditation courses and additional sleepcast and music options. If it's a bit of calm that you're after, Headspace will give you the help you need with winding down at the end of the day.


Calm


And speaking of meditation, there's also calm. Calm is an incredible app which has really taken the world by storm in recent years. Besides helping you with your mental health in all kinds of areas, the Calm app is user-friendly and has a Sleep Stories section that features bedtime stories read aloud by people with soothing voices, including celebrity Matthew McConaughey. While only a few stories are available for free, a subscription unlocks a vast meditation library specific to sleep and categories such as stress and ASMR, with fresh content weekly. You'll also find that the app provides relaxing music and exercises for breathing and stretching.


Noisli


Some people like silence, some enjoy the sound of rain, others like distant voices, and then some enjoy a bedtime story. Noisli is an easy-to-use app which offers a variety of sleep sounds, such as wind, thunder, white noise, and even coffee shop background noise, so users can create their personalised sleep soundtrack. As a user you can combine sounds and save them in the app for future use. Then, depending what mood you're in, you can select a sound and head off to sleep. A word of caution - if using Noisli overnight, it's best to keep your phone plugged in to avoid waking up to a dead battery.


Sleep Cycle


If you're one fo the many people who wakes up feeling that they could do with three more hours, Sleep Cycle might be for you. The Sleep Cycle app tracks sleep patterns, offers guided meditations and sleep coaching, and wakes users up during their lightest sleep phase. While not perfectly accurate, the app can provide valuable insights about your sleep, helping you to learn about yourself and perhaps experiment. By measuring your cycles and potentially identifying problems, you might just get to the bottom of your issues.


Slumber


Slumber features a range of experiences to help users fall asleep fast, including guided meditations, a bedtime story series, and soothing sounds like rain or ocean waves that continue playing for up to 10 hours. Additional sleep-inducing content such as stories and meditations are added weekly, and premium subscribers have access to all of them. Users with the free version can only access a limited selection of similar episodes - so if you love the app, you might want to consider paying for the full version.


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