In part 2 of the Wholistic Runner series I look deep into the most performance enhancer there is...........SLEEP. Are you prioritising it, or succumbing to the hectic nature of life. This was published in KIWI Trail Runner Issue #8.
We have all heard the slogans and most have bought into the lies: "Sleep is for wimps" - "Plenty of time for sleep when you've dead". Society in general has completely the wrong attitude towards sleep. We need to stop wearing self -imposed sleep deprivation as a badge of honor. Don't underestimate the benefits of the restorative effect of sleep on your health and well being. We all know from first hand experience that when you awake from a good nights sleep the next day is better. You are more productive, your ability to flow from task to task is enhanced, and you have far more tolerance for annoyances that come your way. The converse is also true, when sleep is interrupted due to stress or certain phases in life (for example new babies in the household) our resilience is affected, and even small challenges become daunting. Many studies link not getting enough sleep to cardiovascular disease, poor immune function, insulin resistance (setting up for diabetes), and a lower life expectancy.
Rich Roll (podcast host and plant powered endurance athlete) interviewed sleep expert Shawn Stevenson on podcast RRP #219 and Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington on RRP #224. Shawn is a wellness evangelist and host of the Model Health Show podcast. He has recently published the book "Sleep Smarter : 21 essential strategies to sleep your way to a better body, better health, and bigger success". Arianna has dominated U.S television for decades, authored 15 books, and pioneered online journalism. Her latest book "The Sleep Revolution: Transforming your life one night at a time has just been published.
Listening to both podcasts delivered a range of tips and resources to improve sleep quality and I wanted to share the pearls that resonated with me the most.
The preparation for a good nights sleep begins as soon as you wake in the morning. A recent study conducted at the Appalachian State University showed that exercising in the morning was best for reducing blood pressure and carrying the effects through into the night promoting improved sleep cycles. These positive effects might be compounded by the fact that getting outside in the morning into the first light (preferably between 6-8:30am) assists our body clocks regulate sleep patterns. This helps produce the hormone serotonin, which makes us less anxious and helps initiate a deeper sleep. Generally more activity and exercise will assist with better sleep so if the evening is the only option try a lighter intensity session and make sure you allow wind down time before getting into bed.
If your phone wakes you up in the morning there is a good chance it may be disrupting your sleep. A 2008 study by researches based in Sweden and the US showed that radiation emitting from mobile phones can cause headaches and interrupt vital sleep patterns. Under the radiofrequency exposure conditions participants in the study showed a longer latency to deep sleep and decreased the ability to "wind down" and get to sleep. Most people don't set healthy limits on their phone with nearly 75% of people between the age of 18-44 sleeping within reach of their phone. The temptation to check the phone before bed or even during the night is overwhelming with some people. The blue wavelengths of light that are emitted (which are beneficial during the day because they boost attention, reaction times, and mood) are disruptive at night throwing the bodies biological clock (the circadian rhythm) out of whack. Blue light exposure suppressed the secretion of melotonin (the quality sleep hormone) negatively effecting sleep quality, increasing blood sugar levels and decreasing levels of leptin (a hormone that leaves people feeling full after a meal). This "perfect storm" of hormonal influence could also contribute to excessive snacking after dinner.
Several studies show that taking natural sleep supplements like melotonin or magnesium can be helpful. One product that works well if you can get off to sleep but then wake after a couple of hours and have trouble getting back to sleep is "Go Sleep Support" from GO Healthy NZ, this contains 5-HTP (precursor to serotonin), Magnesium citrate, and calcium citrate. Cuddling is also shown to be another natural, and more cost effective sleep aid - skin to skin contact with a loved one produces oxytocin (calming hormone). If you sleep alone a hot water bottle or heating pad warming your abdomen can help.
Soaking in a warm bath 2-3 hours before you go to bed will warm and relax your body. By the time you go to bed your core temperture will have dropped initiating a deep sleep. It will also help relax muscles after a training session. Adding Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to the bath will give you the benefit of magnesium absorption through the skin. This can also be useful in setting up a regular sleep routine before bed. Creating a personal sleep ritual that works for your life helps get the system (physically and psychologically) ready for sleep.
Every athlete understands that getting sufficient rest is imperative to absorb training and get the most adaptation. Many American professional sports teams use a sleep specialist to work individually with players to get more and a better quality sleep. The difference in performance between a top age group athlete and a pro is not only the total training hours but the amount of sleep (including afternoon power naps) and rest they are able to schedule in to the weekly routine. Sleep needs to be prioritised if you are serious about your athletic goals and should be the first thing you schedule in to the training plan. This means getting to bed earlier if you have an early run planned. My Wednesday long morning run sometimes requires getting up at 3:45am. If I'm not in bed before 9pm then I know I risk for injury or poor functioning the next day is increased. Watching TV at night should be swapped for better sleep habits. As Arianna Huffington stated..."getting enough sleep doesn't mean that you are giving up your goals or your desire to achieve and succeed - on the contrary, it makes you more effective, it's the ultimate performance enhancer."
Simple tips to promote SLEEP
1) Try to get into a routine where you go to bed and wake at around the same time. This lays down regular sleep rhythms.
2) Make sure your bedroom is not cluttered, and you don't watch TV in bed. TOTAL darkness and quiet helps (earpugs and eyeshades can be used)
3) Avoid caffeine after 1pm, and alcohol as both can interfere with sleep quality. Looking at alcohol free days throughout the week will help with more than just sleep in terms of general wellness.
4) Regular exposure to daylight. Morning exercise is a great way to promote a better sleep, and getting out for a lunch time walk in the sun rather than working at your desk is a win-win.
5) Try not to eat for 2-3 hours before going to bed as added demands on digestion doesn't help with sleep quality.
6) Write down any tasks you have to do the following day to offload and reduce ruminating at night. Praying at night can have the same effect if you are anxious or are worrying about matters outside your control.
7) Starting a meditation practice to work on mindfulness (see previous KTR article on the benefits of meditation). Completing your meditation in the early evening and not immediately before bed can help you de-clutter your thoughts helping getting off to sleep. Meditation practice is best not used right before bed as fatigue can interfere with your ability to stay engaged.
As with any issue that has to do with wellness there is no one silver bullet. Work on the foundation habits (daily exercise/activity, plant based whole food eating, investing in the relationships that matter, living with purpose, and working on an attitude of gratitude) then start introducing the "sleep hacks" to fine tune your sleep quality.