In some ways, our glorification of entrepreneurial culture has sold you a bill of goods. “Be the first to arrive and the last to leave.” “Live for the grind.” “You can sleep when you’re dead.” “While you were sleeping, this guy was winning.” You know what successful people do? They sleep. They sleep soundly, and well, and they are protective of their sleep hours. Why? Sleep is the foundation of productivity, both in business and in sport. If you want to perform at your best this summer, don’t just focus on your training and nutrition. Focus on sleep, and here’s how.
Humans sleep better in cool environments. When you are overheated, either because your core temperature is elevated or because the environment is too warm, you will struggle to get to sleep and you will be less likely to stay asleep. Reducing core temperature is an important component of accelerating the onset of sleep. Your body naturally does this by increasing skin temperature, thereby creating a bigger gradient between the temperature of your skin and the environment around you. Reducing the temperature of the environment helps to maximize this gradient and may further accelerate the onset of sleep. What does that mean practically? Turn on the air conditioning and sleep in a cooler room.
Exercise in the morning
If you typically exercise in the afternoon or evening during the summer, and you are experiencing difficulty sleeping, try shifting your exercise to the morning. An interesting 2015 study from Yamanaka, et al. may explain why. They found evening exercise delayed the onset of the core temperature decline that promotes the onset of sleep, and increased sympathetic nervous system activity (fight or flight) for hours after activity. Morning exercise, in contrast, enhanced parasympathetic nervous system activity (rest and digest) and accelerated core temperature decline in the evening following exercise. In plain English this means evening exercise may leave you too keyed up to get to sleep, especially in the summer because heart rate and core temperature will also be high due to higher ambient temperatures.
Dehydrated equals hot. Nearly every endurance athlete has had this experience. You do a big workout or event on a hot day, you try to drink enough but fall short, and that night you lay awake, emitting heat like a radiator and listening to your rapid heart rate pounding in your ears. When you work hard during a hot day, you generate a ton of heat. If your plasma volume is adequate, your body can dissipate a lot of that heat and bring your core temperature down. If you don’t drink enough and your plasma volume is low, your body stores too much heat and struggles to get rid of it. This can make sleeping very difficult. Chugging water before bedtime isn’t the solution. You have to stay on top of your hydration throughout the day and evening. If your heart rate is elevated above your normal resting heart rate as you get into bed, you may need to focus on hydration a bit more in the coming days.
Calm your mind
This is a big one for the driven executives we coach. When these athletes have trouble getting to sleep it is often ascribed to feeling like they can’t get their brains to “shut off”. Some of that may be attributable to the sympathetic nervous system stimulation of late-day exercise, as described above, so shifting to morning exercise may help with this issue. Proactively reducing exposure to stimulation may help as well, which means stopping exposure to email and bright light (including back-lit screens like phones and tablets) before going to bed. Read a book – a real one with paper pages, or an e-reader that lacks a backlight – instead of a backlit screen. Read something that is not work-related. Mornings are a great time to read things that fire up your mind; perhaps lighter fiction, biographies, and history are better choices in the evenings.
Try a sleep supplement
Ideally, the steps above will negate the need for any sleep aids, but if you’re struggling to sleep you may consider mild sleep aids. Melatonin supplements are a common and non-addictive choice that may help you get to sleep more rapidly. CTS and the Twenty-20 Pro Cycling Team have seen positive results from a sleep aid supplement called RĒKÜVR from GQ-6, particularly regarding calming of the mind. RĒKÜVR si the Official Sleep Aid Supplement of CTS. It is essentially a melatonin supplement with amino acids L-Theanine, L-Glutamine, and L-Leucine added to it. If you are experiencing significant insomnia, see your physician to determine whether a prescription sleep aid is appropriate.
For many athletes balancing training with career and family priorities, training time and total training workload are limited. When this is the case, it is essential to optimize other areas of your life that can positively impact your performance. Sleep is perhaps the number one area that can be optimized, yet it is often the last area athletes address. Without a doubt, more hours of better sleep improve performance. So, if you’re doing the work in training you owe it to yourself to optimize sleep in order to optimize performance.
Yamanaka, Yujiro, Satoko Hashimoto, Nana N. Takasu, Yusuke Tanahashi, Shin-Ya Nishide, Sato Honma, and Ken-Ichi Honma. “Morning and Evening Physical Exercise Differentially Regulate the Autonomic Nervous System during Nocturnal Sleep in Humans.” American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology 309.9 (2015).