Today’s anxiety-ridden, performance focused world can steal away our eight hours of heavenly rest and replace it with a night spent tossing and turning. Are you getting the sleep you need to perform at your best?
According to a national survey, if you’re between the ages of 19 and 29, chances are, you’re not.
Take the Tiredness Test, go ahead, I’ll wait. Once you come back, we’ll figure out the importance of good sleep and how to fix your sleep.
How important is quality sleep?
Improper sleep patterns can mess with your body composition, hormonal balance, well-being and problem solving abilities (to name just a couple “minor issues”). Examine.com has about 29 scientific support & reference citations in answering the question “How important is sleep?”, if you really want to dive into the details. Below are a couple of reasons why sleep is especially important for combat athletes:
- Having trouble with a particular opponent or a more advance combo? Sleep inspires insight.
- Improve your performance as an athlete and competitor.
So, how do I fix my sleep, and make sure I get quality rest?
Make sure to stay away from your TV, computer and tablets for at least 1-2 hours before bedtime. These lights fool your brain into thinking the Sun is still up, and your body won’t adequately prepare itself for sleep. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute showed that exposure to light from computer tablets significantly lowered levels of the hormone melatonin, which regulates our internal clocks and plays a role in the sleep cycle. Reading on an e-reader with the lamp on is much better because they do not produce the same kind of blue light.
If you absolutley can’t get off your computer 1-2 hours before bed, try flux. f.lux™ is “better lighting…for your computer”. Flux makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.
Humans are hunter-gatherers and instinctively need to feel safe before nodding off.
“The nut and bolts aren’t so important unless you’re a sensitive sleeper,” says Dr Nerina Ramlakhan in this article from The Independent. “But if that’s the case then there are various options. Some people benefit from white noise, or fans. Make sure you have effective blinds, or earplugs, if they help. It’s all about reducing distractions and sending a message to your brain about your safety.“
A great website is Rainy Mood for white noise. If you sleep next to your phone use Sleep as Android, the triple whammy of white noise generation, sleep pattern tracking and an alarm clock that only wakes you when you are on the light end of your sleep cycle. I personally use this App and love it. Sleep Cycle has similar features for iPhone, but I don’t know if it does white noise generation.
Get your Mind Right
One often ignored, but important key to getting to sleep, is getting your mind right. How do you get yourself in the right mental state for sleep?
Reddit user Chumkil had this recommendation in the top voted comment on AskReddit: What are your “tricks” for falling asleep
One of the things that will always keep you awake is worrying about “real life problems”.
To counteract this use the following trick:
Imagine yourself the hero/heroine of a story. Pirate, superhero, whatever. The crazier the better. Start imagining that story, but allow your mind to wander within the story. Let bizarre random events occur in your story and imagine yourself in that situation. They key here is to relax and enjoy this story.
You will find your transition into sleep and dreaming is seamless. By letting your story approximate a story dreamworld, you drift off to sleep much much faster.
I personally prefer to visualize wrestling or BJJ as I fall asleep. This has the same effect of taking my mind of “real life problems”, but an added bonus of improving my game and opening up my creativity in the sport.
An often recommended strategy, especially in popular health and fitness literature today is meditation. Meditation and sleep … some paradoxes exist. Willoughby Britton, Ph.D. clinical psychologist and research scientist at Brown University had this to say:
“Our results, along with other longitudinal studies — which have only examined mindfulness meditation and not other techniques — do not support the widespread claims that meditation promotes better, deeper sleep. “
“Before we jump to the conclusion that meditation makes sleep worse, it is important to mention that the increased wakefulness in the brain was associated with improvements in depression. The people who meditated the most (at least 30 minutes per day) had more wakeful brains and were less depressed, but also reported sleeping better. Interestingly, this paradoxical pattern of improvements in self-reported sleep and mood with a corresponding increase in brain wakefulness is also seen in depressed patients who respond positively to SSRI’s like Prozac.”
So, I’ll leave this one for you to decide, whether meditation for sleep is for you. Or better yet, test it out:
Using pills and drugs to help us fall asleep is an epidemic in America. Americans filled some 60 million prescriptions for sleeping pills last year, up from 47 million in 2006, according to IMS Health, a health care services company. But a safer (if less effective) option exists with supplementation, mentioned in brief earlier – melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone secreted in the brain that’s most well know for regulating sleep. Absence of light stops melatonin synthesis (i.e. prevents it from breaking down) and more melatonin facilitates sleep.
Four repeated double blind clinical trials cited on Examine.com show a decrease in insomnia in a statistically significant portion of subjects.
Melatonin’s presence can be supplemented, but it’s also regulated with the right sleep cycle (aka get enough sleep, and get the right exposure to light and dark). This is why, earlier in the post, I talked about how important it is to avoid TVs and computers right before bed. Yes melatonin taken near sleep can help you fall asleep. My personal preference though, is to avoid hormonal supplementation unless necessary (aka turn off your TV!).
Some Other Options
I ran across some more exotic options during research. Not as much science to support these, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work, just means the research is not there yet. Those interested in doing some more reading should check these out.
Let’s call them the ABCs of unproven methods:
There’s one very important ingredient I didn’t cover and that’s exercise. That’s because I’m assuming that you, the reader, already knows how important exercise is, you’re getting your workouts in and you feel the beneficial effects they have on your sleep patterns.
So besides getting your reps, drills and runs in, what do you do to fall asleep and sleep right? Please share below.