Sleep: Tips for Better Health and Better Performance
Good sleep is essential for optimal health and performance. Sleep helps us regulate our nervous and immune systems and is fundamental to our ability to recover and regenerate. During sleep, there are several important neurological, metabolic, immune, and cognitive processes that occur (1).
Sleep facilitates our ability to recover from exercise or injury, enhances our injury resilience and is essential to our ability to perform optimally.
We all do it, however it is reported that up to 1 in 3 Canadian adults are not getting enough sleep, 1 in 2 have trouble going to sleep or staying asleep, 1 in 5 do not find their sleep refreshing and 1 in 3 have difficulty staying awake during waking hours (2)...we can do better! Sleep is an essential part of our health and performance and IT'S FREE! There should be no excuses!
You can start to evaluate your sleep by looking at the quantity, quality and timing of your sleep. (Psst: make sure you read ALL. THE. WAY. to the bottom for easy tips on how you can improve your sleep!)
QUANTITY: How many hours of sleep do you get?
The following sleep recommendations are guidelines. Individual needs may vary and females may require more sleep than males AND may be more susceptible to the effects of sleep deprivation.
5-13 years old --> 9-11 hours
14-17 years old --> 8-10 hours
18+ years old --> 7-9 hours
Athletes: The Canadian Sport for Life Society additionally recommends a 30 minute nap between 2-4pm for athletes to help support post exercise recovery (1).
Note that using the weekend to make up for lost hours will not have the same effect...darn eh?
Even if you think you get enough sleep, studies have shown that increasing the amount of sleep you get can improve several markers of performance! (3)
QUALITY: How restorative or restful is your sleep?
When you turn out the lights you should:
Fall asleep within 5 to 20 minutes of turning out your lights. (Falling asleep immediately may mean that you aren't getting enough sleep!)
Stay asleep through the night
Wake spontaneously in the morning (i.e. without your alarm clock, or your parent!)
Feel refreshed within an hour of waking in the morning
It is important to be able to identify any issues you might have with sleep quality and seek professional advice if you continue to have issues after implementing the following strategies.
TIMING: Your sleep schedule should revolve around your biological sleep preference. Are you a night owl or an early bird?
The timing of your sleep affects the quantity and quality of your sleep. Did you know that your preferred sleep timing is partially genetically determined (4)? If your sleep schedule does not match your preferred sleep timing, this can impact the quality and quantity of your sleep. For example, a “night owl” who prefers to go to bed at 1am and wake at 10am will have trouble falling asleep at 9pm and waking at 6am for practice, thus robbing them of enough good quality sleep. Once you have determined your biological sleep preference, you should go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Yes, even on weekends.
The potential consequences of altered sleep include poor concentration, memory loss, irritability, decreased coordination, decreased strength, decreased endurance and mood disorders (4). This can impair your ability to train, recover and perform.
Improve your sleep to improve your health and improve your performance.
So, what changes can you make to improve your sleep? Here are some easy "do's" and "don'ts" for improving your sleep. Believe me, your health and performance will thank you for it!
✔ Make sleep a priority!
✔Keep your room comfortable, quiet and dark (a sleep mask, blackout curtains and/or earplugs can help)
✔Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature and humidity
✔ Schedule 1-2 hours of downtime prior to bedtime that includes relaxing activities with low light exposure and no screens
✔Practice strategies that help to regulate your autonomic nervous system (mindfulness, meditation, regular exercise, breathing)
✔Go to bed and wake at the same time EVERY day (try sticking to a 1 hour window for your bed and wake times)
❌ Play video games, watch TV or spend time on your phone/other screens in the 1-2 hours before you go to bed (wear blue light blockers if you must!)
❌ Try to play "catch-up" on your sleep
❌ Keep your phone or other light emitting devices next to your bed
❌ Exercise right before bed
❌ Participate in stimulating activities before bed
❌ Consume alcohol, caffeine or nicotine before bed
❌ Eat too close to bedtime
About the author: Kristin is a Registered Physiotherapist and the Owner of East Mill Physio in Elora, ON. She has a special interest in Neurofunctional Acupuncture and Sports Performance. She enjoys pushing the boundaries of what we traditionally believe to be possible with respect to injury rehabilitation, injury prevention and performance optimization by using a holistic treatment style. She is passionate about sharing information to help empower individuals in their health and wellness and to support lifelong athleticism for all. She hopes this information will serve to help people do the things they love, for life. To learn more about East Mill Physio, visit www.eastmillphysio.ca.
1. Samuels, C. H., & Alexander, B. N. (2013, January). Sleep, Recovery, and Human Performance. Retrieved December 2019, from https://sportforlife.ca/portfolio-view/sleep-recovery-and-human-performance/
2. Canada, P. (2019, September 06). Government of Canada. Retrieved October 09, 2020, from https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/canadian-adults-getting-enough-sleep-infographic.html
3. Mah, C. D., Mah, K. E., Kezirian, E. J., & Dement, W. C. (2011). The Effects of Sleep Extension on the Athletic Performance of Collegiate Basketball Players. Sleep, 34(7), 943-950. doi:10.5665/sleep.1132
4. Samuels C. Sleep, recovery, and performance: the new frontier in high-performance athletics. Neurol Clin 2008;26(1):169-180.
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