What the Pros Know About Sleep: Easy Tips to Maximize Your Rest

sleep-deprivationThis is Part 2 of a two-part series about maximizing sleep and recovery. To learn more about the value of sleep and how professional athletes (and everyday gym people) need to make this a priority, click here.

You know you should sleep more. You’ve heard it before and in Part 1 of this series we discussed all of the recovery benefits you are missing out on if you’re not getting enough sleep on a nightly basis.

But what we didn’t tell you was how to MAXIMIZE the time you do spend lying in bed, regardless of how much that is. Being in bed for seven hours and getting quality sleep for almost all of that time is BETTER than being in bed nine hours and only getting six hours of quality sleep.

It’s just like fitness, really. Maximize your time in an hour and reap the same—if not more—benefits than the guy who trains for two hours and wastes 15-20 minutes in between each set.

Here’s how to build a better night’s sleep, regardless of your schedule.

SLEEP COLD

Sleep doctors are in agreement that that your body needs to be between 60-68 degrees Fahrenheit when you’re sleeping to get optimal recovery. That’s even more critical for athletes, who typically run warm and need to be on the lower end of that scale to hit their REM cycle and get deep sleep.

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“There’s a lot of benefits to cold when it comes to things like inflammation—a lot of athletes do cold therapy, cold tub, cold rooms and there’s building evidence that shows, in terms of reducing inflammation, cold works,” said owner of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine, Dr. Chris Winter, who is a board-certified and nationally-recognized sleep medicine doctor.

“The question becomes does 15 minutes in the cold tub reduces inflammation? What if you are sleeping on something that can drop your temperature every night for eight hours? I think the short answer is athletes feel better, they don’t sweat as much, they like cold. But there may also be more physiological benefits for athletes that are able to [lower their temperature].”

If you aren’t a pro athlete it can be a big financial commitment to turn your thermostat down that low. One solution is a ChiliPad, a cooling mattress topper that goes as low as 55 degrees Fahrenheit and one that Dr. Winter—who is not affiliated with the company in any way—has seen great success with.

“It has a significant impact. We’ve seen as much as a 20 percent increase in sleep,” said ChiliTechnology founder Todd Youngblood. “When you fall asleep more quickly you can optimize that time more quickly, get into deeper sleep cycles quickly and stay there longer. You have a doubling effect. It slows the heart rate, the same as ice baths and cryotherapy chambers. It slows the heart rate as much as seven beats per minute and when you look at that over a whole nights of sleep, it can make a big impact.”

GET YOUR LIGHT GAME ON POINT keep-calm-and-sleep

The biggest factor that influences most people’s sleep is light, according to Winter. It needs to be pitch black, or as close to it as possible, when you’re going to bed. That means turn the clocks away from you, click off your phone or computer screen or wear a sleep mask if you have to.

“You want to be very careful when athletes are exposed to light,” said Winter.

Ideally, you wake up in a still-dark room and wake yourself up with natural sunlight, like going outside to walk your dog or opening the window. Your body will feel more alert with natural light than artificial. So, try not to just reach for your phone and scroll through Instagram as a means to “wake yourself up”.

You should be equally as diligent with your wind-down routine, according to Stanford’s Cheri Mah. Mah, considered one of the world’s top experts on sleep and athletic performance, has worked with athletes from all four major sports leagues and advocates a 20-30 minute wind-down routine that you can work up to.

“Start with 5-10 minutes of reading/stretching this week and build up to 20 minutes,” Mah said. “Or if you regularly are obtaining 6 hours of sleep currently, aim for 6.5 hours consistently this week and then 7 hours next week. To increase your sleep duration, it is typically easier to advance your bedtime and maintain the same wake time than change the time you wake up.”

TRAIN YOUR BODY

a89962_f7d22dcf6b7c42f19c2fdcc5b4ba566e-mv2Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule is huge, according to Mah, who suggests setting an alarm on your phone nightly to remind yourself when you have 30 minutes to wind down. Try to target going to bed—and waking up—as consistently as possible during the work week.

Try to limit TV, laptops, video games or your phone for an hour before you go to bed. The emitted blue light from these devices can prevent sleep and decrease melatonin release, which is important for sleep.

Caffeine should be cut off by late afternoon, and alcohol —as you’ve probably heard before—can fragment the second half night of your sleep.

Naps are fine, and have been shown to provide a temporary boost in alertness and performance. But stick to 20-30 minutes. Longer naps can result in sleep inertia (feelings of grogginess) upon awakening from deep stages of sleep.

(Note: This was not a sponsored post and Athlete Daily is not affiliated with or sponsored by ChiliTechnology. We purchased Chilipads for ourselves earlier this year and they are worth every penny.)

Picture courtesy of ChilliPad