Peak performance in any area of our lives comes only from the right preparation. So often we focus on lifestyle elements such as nutrition and exercise to help us perform during the day, but we often neglect our body’s physical and mental need to rest and recover through sleep.
Sleep experts This Works give their top tips for optimising your sleep to achieve maximum performance.
How much sleep should I be getting?
The essential point is not how many hours of sleep you have during the night but the amount of sleep during 24 hours. We are used to having 7-8 hours continuous sleep, but at times when this isn’t possible, try to achieve one long phase of continuous sleep (this will cover the need for deep sleep) or around 4-5 hours. You can then complete your sleep needs with short naps during the day.
The general consensus is to keep naps to no more than 20 minutes in order to avoid entering a state of deep sleep, which can mean you wake up feeling groggy and potentially worse than you did before.
Limit your evening technology usage
It sounds simple to restrict your evening technology usage, but it can be harder than we think– in 2016 Ofcom reported that in the UK we now spend more time using technology devices than we do asleep. 79% of us check our smartphones within one hour of turning our bedroom lights out and over a quarter within five minutes.
So why does this matter?
Our sleep pattern is set by our built-in circadian rhythm or body clock, which adjusts to its environment through the external cue of regular exposure to light and darkness. Research has shown that this internal clock controls our mood, energy levels, hormones and skin health.
Exposure to blue light emitted from our technology devices in the evening inhibits the release of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin. This can disturb our circadian rhythm by up to three hours. It’s not just the length of time we sleep that blue light impacts, exposure also significantly impacts our readiness for sleep by increasing alertness, making it harder for your mind to rest. Scientists at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson University found that overall alertness among people exposed to blue light at night was nearly as high as daytime levels of alertness.
Watch what you eat (and drink)
Hunger and satiety have a direct impact on alertness. For the best chance of falling asleep quickly, avoid late and heavy meals and keep any ingredients – such as spices – that may make you bloated or increase your body temperature to a minimum.
Avoid raising your body temperature
At the end of a long day, a soak in a hot bath or hot shower is a tempting way to relax and wind down. However, if you have it too hot you risk raising your body temperature, which can cause problems when it comes to falling asleep.
We recommend hot baths or showers are taken at least two hours before bed, so that you have time to cool down before hitting the sack.
In your bedroom itself, keep it aerated and maintain a relatively low temperature through the night.
If you do find yourself waking during the night, keep in mind that a new sleep gate will occur within 40 – 60 minutes. Try to ‘deactivate’ your brain by entering into a monotonous activity – the classic “counting sheep” attitude. Or try focusing on a specific point of a ‘virtual’ picture (often difficult to maintain!).
If your mind is racing, feed it with interesting information – without any emotional content, e.g. replay in your mind part of a film or documentary you’ve recently seen, or a book you’ve recently read.