Sleep Rx for Athletes: Why And How to Get The Shut-Eye You Need to Sustain High Performance
14 tips to hack your health and athletic performance with better sleep
Sleep. That glorious, golden slumber filled with sweet dreams. It feels good, and for good reason.
Unfortunately, healthy sleep eludes many of us and the lack of it diminishes recovery times and degrades athletic performance.
A third of Americans don’t get enough sleep, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). It’s estimated that more than 50 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder. Whether you suffer from chronic insomnia (a disorder that keeps people from falling or staying asleep) or stress-induced sleeplessness, you likely know the tired tango, the bleary shuffle to the coffeepot, the puffy-eyed straining squint into screens.
More than 37 percent of U.S. workers are sleep-deprived. They don’t sleep well or enough. This affects the bottom line: Tired employees cost employers $63 billion annually in health-related productivity losses! Working while fatigued is risky business.
Devastating crises—nuclear reactor meltdowns, oil spills, and more—have been caused by some degree of fatigue. And that’s not to mention the countless times someone’s dozed dangerously behind the wheel, let alone put their underwear on inside-out in a groggy haze.
News flash: Sleeping less isn’t a shiny badge of honor to flash. In fact, sleep deprivation can not only undermine your athletic performance but also contribute to a host of medical issues, including obesity, high blood pressure, cancer, depression, lowered immunity, and more.
Sleep is dictated by your circadian rhythm, aka biological clock, a 24-hour cycle that dictates sleep and wake phases. Many factors influence this cycle—hormones, activity, socializing, and light. Individual needs vary; the CDC recommends 7 or more hours nightly for adults. We believe athletes should strive for 8 hours, minimum, and then adjust accordingly based on how one feels upon waking. For athletes in the midst of intense training, we suggest even more hours dedicated to sleep.
Sure, it can take some finagling to crack the code to get your deep rest at night, but all of the effort to improve sleep through natural means pays big dividends compared with the alternatives.
Many of the 9 million Americans who use sleeping pills experience significant negative side effects (for example: constipation, diarrhea, dizziness, drowsiness, gas, headache, heartburn, and breathing problems—especially for those with asthma or other lung conditions). Sedative hangovers—grogginess, morning exhaustion, daytime impairment—can be downright dangerous. If that’s not scary enough, sleeping pills can cause psychological dependence. What’s more, some research has uncovered their limited effectiveness.
So here are the Dos and Don’ts for athletes on how to hack your way—naturally—to better sleep.
Do: 6 Ways for Athletes to Sleep Better
- Take a midday walk—outside. Natural light will recalibrate your circadian rhythm in sync with the time of day.
- Clear your schedule. If you don’t fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, you need some time to fall asleep. Carve out, say, 9 hours for sleep instead of 7, if you’re aiming for 7 to 8 hours of shut eye. (But don’t tuck in until you’re sleepy, to avoid worrying while staring at the ceiling!)
- Establish a routine. Prepare for sleep with meditation, a bath, reading, sipping a cup of decaf tea, or something relaxing you can replicate each day.
- Invest in a great mattress and bed and keep the bedroom dark, quiet, and cool. Given how much time we spend in it, finding a great mattress is key. (Afterall, you should be spending at least a third of your life on it!) Along with that, try blackout curtains, remove blinking electronics, invest in ear plugs, and keep the temperature below 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Exercise or workout in the morning or midday rather than late in the day. This can help you fall asleep faster and ease stress.
- Take sleep-friendly, natural supplements. CBD, when derived from full-spectrum hemp oil, shepards sleep by minimizing stress, anxiety and pain—those pesky factors that keep us all up at night. Rather than making you lethargic, like a sedative, it reduces the conditions that inhibit deep sleep. Our PowerDown combines PurePower’s Performance HempTM with a proprietary blend of potent botanicals known to promote restful sleep great for athletes, including:
- Passionflower, Chamomile and Skullcap: This trio of herbs is widely used to treat insomnia, helping people drift into sleep and maintaining states or deep rest through the night.
- GABA, a natural calming agent in the brain that’s produced by the amino acid glutamine and glucose.
- 5-HTP, a widely-researched chemical the body uses to make serotonin, a key substance for normal nerve and brain function.
- Magnesium, an essential mineral, helps relax muscles and you to unwind.
- L-theanine is an amino acid found in tea leaves. It’s shown to promote relaxation and to boost GABA, serotonin, and dopamine—neurotransmitters that can affect sleep.
Don’t: 8 Ways Athletes Can Disrupt Sleep
- Burn the midnight oil at the gym. Working out late at night raises your body temperature, which interferes with sleep.
- Tip back nightcaps. While alcohol might make you feel sleepy at first, it disturbs your cycle later in the night.
- Using Nicotine or Alcohol. Nicotine, like caffeine, is a sleep-disrupting stimulant. Alcohol also disrupts sleep, so discontinue consuming any at least 2 hours before bed.
- Eat a big meal. If you must, have that porterhouse for lunch rather than dinner, OK?
- Chug coffee. Caffeine lingers in your system; try skipping your post-lunch pick-up to sleep more soundly.
- Fall asleep on the couch. You’re just procrastinating. And you know it.
- Rack up screen-time. Whether you’re bingeing on a series or hammering out work emails, the blue light from screens disrupts your circadian rhythms, arouses the brain, and can stress you out.
- Fretting. If you’re worrying, tossing, and/or turning, get out of bed and choose a calming activity, like reading in low light, until you get sleepy.