Sleep hygiene is often considered the key to maintaining the body’s circadian rhythm. Yet, athletes often find sleep hard to come by, with them having to combat the weight of expectations, deal with jet lags, go through intense training sessions and participate in gruelling tournaments. In order to get sufficient sleep amid all this, athletes should aim to maintain stable sleep hygiene. The article serves to reveal how regular sleep hygiene habits are the essence of restorative and quality sleep.
- Sleep hygiene refers to the set of practices that elevate the quality and quantity of sleep. Research has found that being regular with a sleep routine and one’s evening activities sets the body up for more restorative sleep,
- Though the sleep habits of elite athletes may vary, one can adopt a sleep routine that suits their chronotype, rather than imitating that of another elite athlete,
- To ensure good sleep hygiene, take into account sleep environment, sleeping and waking-up times, exposure to blue light and exercise intensity, among other factors.
What is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene may refer to the set of practices that elevate the quality and quantity of sleep. Each individual follows a different routine before falling asleep. Research has found that being regular with a sleep routine and one’s evening activities sets the body up for more restorative sleep.
An athlete’s sleep
Quantitative analysis has shown that from a sample group of elite athletes, the average number of hours of sleep obtained was 6.7 hours. All the athletes suffered from a significant sleep deficit. This throws light on the effects of matches ending at late hours, the exposure to blue light at night and the strenuous nature of training. While training, an athlete’s core temperature goes up, and muscle tension and pain increase significantly. Studies have also found sleep quality and the ability to fall asleep to be better on non-game nights.
The most successful elite athletes however are able to maintain a consistent sleep schedule and reach peak levels of performance and recovery.
Sleep habits of some elite athletes
Lebron James may have been 36 years old when he won his fourth NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers. In a career spanning almost 20 years, he has racked up multiple MVP awards, set goal-scoring records and has in the truest sense reached the pinnacle of success in basketball. What keeps this juggernaut of a player ticking? His ability to get at least eight hours of sleep at night, in addition to diet, exercise, training and other factors of course. According to a CNBC article, Lebron believes that sleep is the ‘best way to get back to 100 per cent and is the best way for the body to emotionally and physically recover. His trainer mentioned that 68–70 degrees Fahrenheit is the optimum temperature essential for sleep. Lebron doesn’t look at any screens for 30–45 minutes before going to bed and uses white noise from the Calm App to aid his sleep. He also swears by waking up naturally rather than with an alarm clock.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, on the other hand, are complete opposites of Lebron James with respect to their sleep patterns and sleep hygiene. Though it may be construed as poor sleep hygiene, their routine of sleeping at irregular times rather than for one stretch at night has worked for them. The Rock gets 3–5 hours of sleep on average at night and believes in waking up before sunrise. Cristiano Ronaldo practices polyphasic sleep to counter his busy schedule, taking five 90-minute naps a day.
The influence of chronotypes on sleeping habits
Though the sleep hygiene habits of elite athletes may vary, one can adopt a sleep routine that suits their chronotype, rather than imitating that of another athlete. Chronotypes are a significant factor influencing sleep habits and routines. Chronotype refers to the variation of an individual’s pattern of early or late initiation of daily activity. The chronotype is controlled by the central circadian clock, which is located in the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) of the hypothalamus. The PER3 gene, which is a core gene of the circadian clock, is a critical marker for determining the circadian pattern. The chronotype has a significant correlation with the sleep quality of an individual. Studies have shown that people who possess the evening chronotype are more likely to have poor quality of sleep.
How to attain restorative sleep
In order to fall asleep and maintain sleep, individuals should set up a regular sleep routine. To achieve a regular sleep routine, the following must be taken into account:
1. The sleep environment
The top priority should be to ensure that the environment is conducive to sleep. The factors that can affect sleep could be exposure to light, the presence of routers in the room and the temperature. According to Dr Matt Walker, the body temperature needs to drop by 2–3 degrees Fahrenheit in order to fall asleep and in turn stay asleep. The ideal bedroom temperature for sleep is 18 degrees Celsius.
Evidence has revealed that Wifi routers affect NREM sleep. It is thus advised to switch off the router before going to bed. If it must be used, the router should be placed at a higher level to lower exposure to the electric and magnetic fields it emits. As for lighting, melatonin (sleep hormone) levels drop significantly in artificial light.
2. Sleeping and waking-up time
Go to bed the first time you feel sleepy and wake up at the same time every day. This will allow for the cortisol and melatonin cycle to be maintained. Melatonin works in tandem with cortisol. The secretion of melatonin is correlated with low cortisol levels. It is important to get sunlight (with the sun at a low angle) early in the day upon waking in order to trigger the release of cortisol and set off the circuit that controls the melatonin cycle. Melatonin, secreted primarily in the evening, is responsible for inducing sleep.
3. Exercise and sleep
Studies have shown that high-intensity workouts improve sleep quality. Exercise when timed correctly can be highly effective in sleep. If the workout is done less than one hour before sleep, the sleep efficiency, time and onset latency are impacted.
4. The best time to go to bed
A study revealed that sleeping between 10 pm and 11 pm is ideal for cardiovascular health. Researchers believe that sleeping later might disrupt the circadian rhythm.
5. Blue light
Avoid using your phone at night, as blue-light devices affect sleep quality, circadian phase and cycle durations. Blue light suppresses melatonin production. If you must look at your phone at night, use blue light blockers.
6. Other factors
Set your circadian rhythm according to the sun’s movement. Cryotherapy can also be a means of promoting a more restful sleep among athletes.
A regular sleep routine is considered one of the best ways for an athlete to recover from the fatigue of a match. However, in this day and age, achieving restful sleep is difficult. However, following a regular sleep schedule can greatly improve an athlete’s health and performance.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention or alleviation of any disease, disorder or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns before undertaking a new healthcare regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.