Person under a blanket trying to get better quality sleep

Sleep, Your Performance and Building a Sleep Ritual

Are you getting enough?

On a regular basis?

Most of us aren’t.

(Sleep. I’m talking about sleep).

Do you stare at your phone, scrolling Instagram, playing a game or staring blindly at some show on Netflix, hoping sleep will come? Do you lie in bed with the lights out, but sleep seems a million miles away? Are you wondering where those sheep are you should be counting?

If every once in a while you have trouble falling asleep or you have a night where you don’t get enough sleep, that’s ok. That can happen. But if many nights a week you either find it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep or you consistently get less than 7 hours, then you are running on a deficit and eventually, your body will start to break down-literally.

Sure, we all have different needs and I know someone out there right now is saying, ‘I am totally fine with 5 hours a night’, but research says otherwise. Getting 7, 8, maybe even 9 hours a night could be just what your body needs to perform optimally. That is, to perform your every day tasks and to do more than just make it through your training sessions. If you are a person who is pretty active or even had a particularly intense training session today, for example, you may need those 9 hours for your body to recover (we’ll get to that further down).

Why Sleep is so Important

The need for sleep is as fundamental as the need for air, food and water. Sleep is the time our body rebuilds and regenerates itself.

Here’s why sleep is important for you:

  • For various brain functions [1] [2] [3] [4]
    • Concentration
    • Performance
    • Productivity
    • Cognition
    • Enhanced memory
    • Aids learning
    • Nerve cell communications
    • Toxin removal from the brain (a sort of ‘housekeeping of the brain’)
    • Emotional processing [5]
  • Improves immune funciton
  • Improves athletic or physical performance (speed, accuracy, reaction time & reduce training plateaus & injury potential) [6] [7]
  • Improves disease resistance

The Effects of not Getting Enough Sleep

  • Weight gain [8] [9]
  • Higher levels of the hormone that stimulates appetite and a reduction of the hormone that suppresses appetite. [10]
  • Depression [11] [12]
  • Greater risk of certain diseases [13] [14] [15]
    • Heart disease
    • High blood pressure
    • Stroke
    • Type 2 Diabetes [16] [17] [18]
  • Increased inflammation & cell damage in the body [19] [20]
  • Decreases in immune function [21]
  • Decreases in emotional processing [22] [23] [24]

Recommendations for more Restful Sleep

Now let’s look at some ways to help you be ready to go to sleep. All of these can play a role in either you not feeling tired, not being able to stay asleep or could be keeping you up later than you should be staying up. If the list below has you thinking, ‘wow I do a lot of the things on that list!‘ you don’t need to make all the changes at once. Take on one item to change at a time. A new bullet point every two weeks. Then, in no time you will have made some good lifestyle changes and improved your health.

  • Limit stimulants:
    • Caffeine, especially after early afternoon. Some medical professionals and researchers say noon, some say a little later. As a trainer and nutritional coach, I have recommended no later than 2:00 or 3:00pm, depending on how this time affects your nighttime ritual (see below). I’ve also recommended experimenting with the time that’s best for you. You may be 2:00pm; you may need to be noontime.
    • Nicotine later in the day
    • Alcohol right before bed
    • Blue Light [25] [26] near your bedtime.
      • T.V.s, computers, laptops, tablets, phones, even high-efficiency light bulbs emit blue light. If you need to be using these devices, it’s best to purchase some blue light blocking sunglasses (these) or (these), get a blue light filter app on your devices or see if your device offers a blue light blocking feature in settings under display or brightness.
  • Eating large meals with less than four hours until your bedtime.
  • Medications (Rx or OTC) that may have a stimulant in the ingredients.
  • Have a sleep routine for getting ready for bed at the same time and rising at the same time, seven days a week. (Yes, weekends too-it seems sad, but in the end it helps).
  • Exercise 30-60 mins most days of the week, but not within three hours of your bedtime.
  • Get 20-30 minutes of sun exposure daily, preferably with some form of movement–like a walk

Create an Environment for Great Sleeping

Here’s the section where you get to make-over your bedroom or make-over your getting-ready-for-bed routine. This list will give you some great ways to set yourself up for the best environment for sleeping. If this seems overwhelming, choose one main bullet point at a time, adding a new change every two weeks.

  • As stated above, have a routine for getting into bed that will help you unwind from your day.
    • Read an actual book (but not too close to bedtime and generally recommended not to read it in your bed).
    • Meditate (you could use an app-remember your blue light filter-I like the app Calm).
    • Take a bath.
    • Gentle stretching or yoga poses that promote relaxation.
    • Brush teeth/wash face and other general bathroom prep for bedtime with a dimmer light.
  • Keep your bedroom completely dark.
    • hang black out curtains
    • tape over all light sources. Is there a light on the smoke detector in your room? Tape over it. Same goes with other electronics that have clocks or lights that say they are actively using electricity.
    • Choose a clock that doesn’t have a light that shines into the room and preferably not your cell phone–too tempting to use it until bed, in the middle of the night if you wake up and/or as the first thing you do in the morning.
  • Noise reduction for your room. The black out curtains from above also have a noise reduction quality. Or you could wear earplugs if there is excessive noice coming from the busy street you live on or if the person sharing your bed is a snorer.
  • Keep room at a cooler temperature for sleeping.
  • Avoid watching T.V. or using electronics one hour before bed and especially not in your bed.

How this Helps You Perform

Sleep improves our performance both mentally and physically. Getting enough sleep helps to repair and recharge our bodies because it gives our brains and muscles time to recover from the mental and physical stresses of the day. Sleep cleans away any toxins within our brains and in our bodies, helping us feel more alert and ready to take on the tasks in our day: from simple tasks to more complex ones.

When we’re tired, it can be more challenging to remember all the steps needed to set up for that new drop you learned last week on your aerial apparatus or hard to remember all the details for your work presentation. When we get enough sleep, we feel mentally clear to take on and learn new tasks, be it for work, in your circus class or your workout session.

As mentioned above, nine hours may be needed if you had a particularly intense training session. You know the one, the training session where you know you’re gonna be sore tomorrow. Your body may need that nine hours of sleep to recover and build muscle. The best is to try to get the nine hours altogether, but if that doesn’t happen, it may mean you need to take a nap or two.

Do yourself a favor, sleep. It’s helping to repair your muscles and helping you to get stronger and more capable of performing the skills you are training. Additionally when rested we come into our next training session recovered and ready for the next physical challenge.

Sleep well my friends. ~~Theresa