Sleep Like an Athlete
Last week in the first segment of, “Sleep Like an Athlete” blog, we took a look at the different sleep cycles that occur throughout the night and 3 hormones that impact your sleep. In the second segment of, “Sleep Like an Athlete,” we will be taking a look at a few activities that can negatively impact sleep and some solutions to help you achieve better sleep quality and recovery.
Activities that Negatively Impact Sleep
After reading segment one of, “Sleep Like an Athlete,” we now have a basic understanding of the different sleep cycles our bodies go through each night and some of the hormones involved with sleep. So, let’s take a look at a few daily activities that can negatively impact your sleep and give a brief explanation as to how these activities impact your sleep and recovery.
The first daily activity that can harm our ability to get great sleep is light exposure late at night. When natural or artificial light is present our body does not produce the hormone Melatonin, which helps make you feel drowsy and tired. (1) Some common activities that expose our bodies to light late at night include watching TV and using our phones for texting, talking or social media. When we use these devices late at night our pineal gland is not signaled to beginning producing Melatonin. Without Melatonin present in our body we are “blocked” from feeling tired when we should be. When using these devices late at night it can be quite easy to stay up way later then we intended to due to our Melatonin production being “blocked.” Staying up later then we want takes precious time away from sleep which, is needed for our bodies to refuel and recover properely.
The second daily activity that affects our body’s ability to get good sleep is due to caffeine. Excessive caffeine consumption throughout the day and consuming caffeine too late in the day will negatively impact your bodies ability to get quality sleep. Let’s take a look at how consuming caffeine later in the evening can impact your sleep. In a recent study, Caffeine Effects on Sleep Taken 0, 3, 6 hours before Going to Bed, they found that individuals who consumed caffeine within 6 hours of falling asleep lost 1 hour or more of sleep during the night. Individuals who consumed caffeine within 3 hours of falling asleep lost 1 hour or more of sleep during the night and spent less time in Stage 1 and Stage 2 of their sleep cycles. (2) Losing an hour of sleep night after night due to consuming caffeine later in the evening adds up and negatively affects your bodies ability to recover each day. Having excessive amounts of caffeine throughout the day is harmful to your great sleep as well. Caffeine has a half life, the amount of time it takes for your body to break the chemical in half, that typically takes between 5 to 6 hours. (3) You may be thinking why does the half-life of caffeine matter? If you have consumed 400 mg to 500 mg of caffeine throughout the day, which is the equivalent of 3 to 4 servings of a dark coffee, latte or mocha drink or 3 to 4 servings of a Monster energy drink, then 10 to 12 hours after you have consumed these beverages there is still 100 mg to 125 mg of caffeine in your body, which is enough to inhibit your body’s ability to produce Melatonin.
The last daily activity that we are going to look at that negatively impacts sleep is how heightened levels of stress can affect your sleep. Stress can be caused from a multitude of activities. Throughout the day your body takes on stress from physical activities, such as during gym class or playing tennis, mental stress, such as feeling anxious about a test at school and from the foods and beverages that we eat and drink throughout the day. Stress is not a bad thing. We need stress put on our bodies in order to get stronger and faster, but having consistently high levels of stress is difficult on the body. Consistent high levels of stress can cause high levels of Cortisol in your body. This is a problem because high levels of Cortisol can negatively impact your bodies ability to get good sleep. (4, 5)
Guidelines to Improve Sleep
Now we will discuss some guidelines that you can follow that will help you improve your sleep quality and recovery. First, what can you do to avoid light exposure late at night? The easiest and most effective way to avoid light exposure before going to bed is simply not using the TV or smartphone. The television and the smartphone are two of the most prominent devices that we use late at night. So, instead of turning on the TV or playing with your phone other activities that you can do instead might be to play a board game or read a book. A great option to do before bed would be to stretch or take a warm bath. Stretching before bed can help get your mind and body into a relaxed state which will help you fall asleep quicker. Taking a bath is another great option because a warm bath will raise your body temperature which in turns allows your body temperature to lower after getting out of the bath. This is important because the drop-in body temperature will naturally make you feel tired and help you get into Stage 2 of sleep quicker. (6)
Another relevant poor sleep habit that many people partake in is consumption of caffeine later in the day and drinking excessive amounts of caffeine throughout the day. The two important guidelines to follow in regards to caffeine consumption are as follows; avoid having caffeine after 4:00 pm and avoid having more than 400 mg of caffeine throughout the day. Avoiding caffeine after 4:00 pm will give your body enough time to break down the caffeine and not affect your pineal glands ability to produce Melatonin. The second rule is to avoid having more than 400 mg of caffeine throughout the entire day. As discussed in the previous section having excessive amounts of caffeine throughout the day will not allow your body enough time to metabolize the caffeine out of your system.
The last guideline to follow that will help you get better sleep and recover is to manage your stress levels more effectively. Managing stress and sleep can be a difficult task, but the first way to mitigate your stress levels is through preparation. As student athletes one of the most prominent causes of stress is due to academic workload. It is important to spend time planning ahead as best you can to help limit the mental strain caused from school. You know that the end of the trimester/semester/quarter that you are going to have a final test for each class. Spend time managing your weekend schedule ahead of time. You can start studying for most of these tests up to two or three weeks ahead of time. Remember slow and steady wins the race. Effective preparation will help you manage your stress level and sleep schedule during higher stress seasons. The second important rule for helping mitigate your stress levels is to prioritize sleep during times of heightened mental/physical strain. During finals week make sure that you are getting to bed and giving yourself 7 to 9 hours of sleep depending on how much sleep you personally need.
Now that you have read both part 1 and 2 of, “Sleep Like an Athlete,” you have a better understanding of how sleep works and the hormones involved with sleep. You know 3 of the main activities that can negatively impact your sleep; light exposure late at night, consumption of caffeine and heightened levels of stress. By following these guidelines you will achieve higher quality sleep and better recovery. Remember sleep needs to be a priority for student athletes as it will help you stay on top of your tennis game on the court and academic success off the court.
1) Hendrick, Bill. “Light Exposure May Cut Production of Melatonin.” WebMD, WebMD, 19 Jan. 2011, www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/news/20110119/light -exposure-may-cut-production-of-melatonin.
2) Drake, Christopher, et al. “Caffeine Effects on Sleep Taken 0, 3, 6 Hours before Going to Bed.” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 15 Nov. 2013, jcsm.aasm.org/viewabstract.aspx?pid=29198.
3) Mandal, Ananya. “Caffeine Pharmacology.” News-Medical.net, News Medical, 23 Aug. 2018, www.news-medical.net/health/Caffeine-Pharmacology.aspx.
4) Vandergriendt, Carl. “What’s the Difference Between Dopamine and Serotonin.” Healthline.com. Debra Rose Wilson, www.healthline.com/health/dopamine-vs-serotonin.
5) Bruno, Karen. “The Stress-Depression Connection: Can Stress Cause Depression?” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/depression/features/stress-depression#1.
6) Harvey, John R. Deep Sleep: Complete Rest for Health, Vitality & Longevity. Becker & Mayer!, 2001. Pg 14.