10 Ways to Improve Your Quality of Sleep

10 Ways to Improve Your Quality of Sleep

By Jordan Mazur, MS, RD

Attention athletes: There is a supplement that is scientifically proven to increase recovery, boost natural hormones, and aid in muscle growth and repair. It contains zero banned substances and this revolutionary supplement is also free for an unlimited time. It's called... sleep.

Today, the modern athlete knows that in order to perform at their best, it requires a dedication to physical conditioning and proper nutrition, however, sleep is often an overlooked component of performance. With recent research emerging on the importance of sleep and recovery, making sleep a priority can give you the winning edge.Optimal sleep can improve reaction times, better accuracy, fast sprint times, reduce injury risk, and improve overall health. Can it really be that simple? It is. Elite athletes are constantly breaking their bodies down and the human body is incredible in its ability to heal and fix itself, but sometimes you just need to give it the building blocks to do so.

So, the question becomes how does one maximize the recovery benefits of sleep? Well, it starts with sleep hygiene. In a world where caffeine-filled athletes are lying in their beds with their eyes glued to their smartphones, more and more athletes are experiencing insomnia and poor sleep quality. The evidence is mounting on the negative health and performance benefits of inadequate sleep and the point of this post is not to prove what is already known, but to help with a solution. So, let’s dive into sleep hygiene.

Sleep hygiene is defined by the National Sleep Foundation as  “a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.” This starts with spending an appropriate amount of time in bed, not too much and not too little. It’s not an exact science by here are some other practices that can help you practice good sleep hygiene:

1. Set a regular sleep schedule. Just like your mom did when you were a kid - give yourself a bedtime. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. In an ideal world, this schedule will remain the same every night of the week (which is easier said than done). Use your phone to set reminders of when it's time to hit the hay.

2. Know how much sleep to get. Experts recommend at least 7-9 hours per night with athletes on the 8 hour end of that range.

3. Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine close to bedtime. Caffeine is a stimulant that will keep you awake, so try and avoid it at least 4-6 hours before going to bed. Remember caffeine is also found in tea, chocolate, cola and soda, energy drinks, and some pain medication.

4. Steer clear of alcohol before you sleep. As many of us may have experienced, alcohol might bring on sleep, especially if consumed in excess. However, after a few hours it begins to act as a stimulant on the brain and doesn’t allow the body to get restful REM sleep.

5. Exercise at the right time. Any type of physical activity during the day can have a drastic improvement of sleep quality. Try to avoid exercising late at night if you are someone who has a problem falling asleep. This is individualized, however, and differs person to person. You can experiment to find out when's the best time for you to workout.

6. Limit naps during the day. Napping during the day does not make up for the fact that you pulled an all nighter last night. There are benefits of a short nap to improve mood, alertness, focus, and performance, but limit it to no more that 30 minutes during the day and before 5:00 pm.

7. Avoid consuming foods right before bed that can disrupt sleep. Spicy foods, citrus foods, carbonated beverages, fatty, and heavy fried foods can cause indigestion and acid reflux if consumed right before lying down to sleep. Just allow at least 30-60 minutes to digest before hitting that pillow.

8. Get natural sunlight during the day. This is particularly important if you sit in an office cubicle all day or live in higher altitudes during the winter months when sunlight is limited. Getting exposure to sun during the day can help you maintain a health sleep-wake cycle.

9. Get comfortable. Mattresses and pillows should be comfortable. The bedroom should be cool – between 60 and 67 degrees – for optimal sleep. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, "white noise" machines, humidifiers, fans, and other devices that can make the bedroom more relaxing.

10. Limit use of electronics and screen time that provide blue light. Many of us have televisions in the bedroom, and it's very common to sleep with our smartphones right next to our pillows. Looking closely at computer screens, TVs, and tablets shortly before bed is actually detrimental to sleep. The blue light that is emitted from those digital screens actually tricks the brain to thinking it’s day time again. Additionally, these devices often provide some kind of stimulation whether its stress from reading work emails or excitement from scrolling through social media feeds. Try to stop using all electronics 30-60 minutes before going to bed. If you can’t kick the habit, you can purchase blue light blocking glasses and screen filters.

Sleep is one of the most important biological functions with roles in performance, cognition, learning, and mental health. Whether you are an elite athlete, weekend warrior, or just trying to be your best self, making sleep a priority and following proper sleep hygiene can be one of the biggest investments that you can make to improve your quality of life.

Jordan Mazur is an NFL Sports Dietitian and part of the Som Sleep Advisory Board. He utilizes a comprehensive approach to training and recovery, providing professional athletes with specialized nutritional support to maximize performance.

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