Learn from elite athletes and get the sleep you need for optimal health
The human body is capable of some pretty amazing things. We’re built to be able to move and think and experience the world around us in a variety of different ways. From smarts to sports and everything in between, we see stories of people who are bringing new inventions to the world and performing incredible physical feats.
But there’s one thing we all have in common. Whether you’re making news or not, you need adequate sleep – both quality and quantity.
Just how much sleep do you really need?
You’ve probably heard the recommendation that the average adult needs 8 hours of sleep each night to enjoy optimal health. But research has shown adults aged 18-64 years actually need 7-9 hours each night. For some, 8 hours may not be quite enough, while for others it’s just too much. According to the National Sleep Foundation, you’ll find your sweet spot “by assessing your own individual needs and habits and learning how you respond to different amounts of sleep.”
If you haven’t been paying attention to your sleep habits, you may be suffering from a sleep debt. Common signs that your sleep bank account is in arrears is fatigue, lack of focus, increased appetite and weight gain. Quite simply, depriving yourself of the sleep you need can seriously impact your long and short-term health.
We know it’s tempting to fit in a few more things by going to bed later or getting up earlier. Or to watch just one more episode of your favorite show on Netflix. According to WebMD, “For most people, getting less than six hours sleep translates into a bigger sleep debt than they may realize. Over a two-week period, missing out on the recommended 8 hours of nightly sleep adds up to two full nights’ sleep debt, one study found. If you’re averaging only four hours a night, your brain reacts as though you haven’t slept at all for three consecutive nights.”
Sleep isn’t a break – it’s active recovery for your brain and body
During sleep, our brains sort and store memories from the day, making room for new experiences heading our way tomorrow. Think of sleep as the clean-up crew for the pathways in the brain. When we don’t get the sleep we need our brains start to look like Walmart toy aisles after Black Friday. Forgetting where you put your glasses today is nothing compared to what your future brain will forget.
In our always-on world, making time to rest and rejuvenate is essential to keep up with the demands of our busy lives. We’re more productive (and healthier) when we get breaks throughout the day – and the most important break should take up roughly a third of every 24 hours. Sleep is so important that athletes and sports teams are beginning to include sleep coaching as part of their overall training regimen and it’s improving player performance. A recent study of the Stanford men’s college basketball team showed that extra time sleeping translated into running faster sprints, improved free throws and improved memory when learning new techniques.
Get started on a winning sleep routine
If sleep can make a difference in athletic performance for pro-athletes, there’s no doubt we can all enjoy similar benefits. Sure, not everyone has the same physical demands, but the practice of prioritizing sleep is the same. The pro-athlete and you are more similar that you think.
Many of us participate in non-professional athletic events weekly, whether at the gym or a pickup game of kickball with friends or chasing a toddler around the house. While you probably don’t train as hard as Lebron or Serena Williams, you might be shocked to hear they both sleep an average of 10 hours each night. But it makes sense. It’s hard to perform your best when you feel exhausted and athletes especially know they must take care of their bodies to be successful.
You can ensure you get the right quality and quantity of sleep by following these simple tips:
- Start with a schedule. Set a time you want to get to sleep and plan your bedtime routine backwards from that time. Keep it as sacred as possible, within reason. Because life happens, and sometimes you have to go with the flow.
- Set yourself up for successful sleep. Your bedroom needs to be a space you want to sleep in. It needs to be comfortable and relaxing – and so does your mattress. Design the space and choose a mattress that supports the quantity and quality sleep you need.
- Commit to a morning routine. And make sure it doesn’t include the snooze button. It’s tempting to sneak 10 more minutes of sleep, but those last 10 minutes aren’t good quality and won’t help you feel more awake.
- Take care when you eat and drink before bed. Food, alcohol and/or caffeine before bed can disrupt your ability fall and stay asleep. Caffeine is best consumed during the morning and if you plan to indulge in adult drinks in the evening, allow for a few hours to digest alcohol and food before going to bed.
- Get moving for better rest. Just as sleep can improve athletic performance, exercise can improve sleep. But you don’t need to be an athlete to reap these rewards. Just 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise daily will give your heart a boost and help you repay that sleep debt. Like with food and alcohol, try to exercise earlier in the day.
- Avoid blue light exposure before bed. Blue light emitted from tablets and mobile phones has a powerful impact on your body’s ability to secrete melatonin, the hormone you need to regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Read a book by lamplight or meditate instead.
Everyone deserves to feel rested and energized every day. And you can do it with a few easy steps that will leave you feeling like a superstar.
Rest well & wake up ready to go!
Better sleep gives rise to better mornings, bringing your goals into focus and dreams within reach. Hungry for more sleep info? Dig into these posts:
- Will exercise help you sleep better?
- Habits of highly effective nappers
- 8 breakfast recipes that aren’t smoothies