Why Athletes Should Pay More Attention To Sleep

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Sleep is one of those things that a lot of athletes and everyone else doesn't think much about. For athletes, you need to consider taking a more serious approach to sleep, so that you're getting the most out of your workouts and recovering properly. Its also a huge part of learning new skills. Studies show getting better sleep will help you learn those skills quicker. Most people think they get 8 hours and your good right? Not exactly, quality sleep is actually more important than the total amount of time spent sleeping. Although science still doesn't fully understand all the functions of sleep, we do know that one of the most important stages is called REM sleep (rapid eye movement).

Stages Of Sleep

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  • Stage One: Considered the transition stage between sleepfulness and wakefulness, stage one non-REM sleep is the shortest period (2-5%) of sleep in the sleep/wake cycle.
  • Stage Two: Considered the baseline of sleep, non-REM sleep stage two accounts for 45-60% of sleep.
  • Stages Three & Four: Termed delta sleep, non-REM sleep stages three and four account for up to 40% of sleep time.
  • REM Sleep: The most active stage of sleep REM accounts for 20-25% of a normal nights sleep. Breathing, heart rate and brain activity quicken during this stage.

This is a normal sleep cycle but what a lot of people find out when they test there sleep is they're not getting enough REM sleep. You want at least two hours of REM sleep per night to feel refreshed in the morning and to give your body a chance to recover.

How To Get Quality Sleep

Everyone is different so the best way to approach better sleep is to test each one or a combination of the tips below and see what works for you. The Following tips were taking from the book The Four Hour Body by Tim Ferris

increase REM percentage by extending total sleep time past nine hours, or by waking for five minutes approximately four and a half hours after sleep onset.

One waking of 5–10 minutes, approximately four and a half hours after sleep onset, dramatically increased REM percentage. It seems that one waking is not necessarily a bad thing, at least when intentional.

Taking 200 milligrams of huperzine-A 30 minutes before bed can increase total REM by 20 –30%. 

An extract of Huperzia serrata, slows the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. It is a popular nootropic (smart drug), and I have used it in the past to accelerate learning and increase the incidence of lucid dreaming. I now only use huperzine-A for the first few weeks of language acquisition, and no more than three days per week to avoid side effects. Ironically, one documented side effect of overuse is insomnia. The brain is a sensitive instrument, and while generally well tolerated, this drug is contraindicated with some classes of medications. Speak with your doctor before using.

The higher the percentage of deep-wave sleep, the better your subsequent physical performance.

More than two glasses of wine within four hours of sleep decreases deep-wave sleep 20–50%. Even four glasses six hours beforehand did not appear to have this effect, so the timing is crucial.  Conversely, taking 15+ drops of California poppy extract appeared to increase deep-wave sleep up to 20%.

Eating two tablespoons of organic almond butter on celery sticks before bed eliminated at least 50% of the groggy mornings.

Ever wonder how you can sleep 8–10 hours and feel tired? The likely culprit: low blood sugar. Make a pre-bed snack part of your nutritional program. One to two tablespoons of flaxseed oil (120–240 calories) can be used in combination with the celery and almond butter to further increase cell repair during sleep and thus decrease fatigue. Flaxseed oil tastes like a mixture of raccoon urine and asparagus, so if you opt to include it I recommend pinching your nose while consuming it, per Dr. Seth Roberts

Insomnia and How To Overcome It

The second battle to sleep is dealing with insomnia. The three forms of insomnia are 

• Taking too long to get to sleep (“onset” insomnia)
• Waking too often throughout the night (“middle” insomnia)
• Waking too early and being unable to get back to sleep (“terminal” insomnia)

Test 67–70° as your bedroom temperature.
Lowering the temperature of your room is one of the most widely used methods for quicker onset sleep. Although the specific temperature is different for everyone play around with this and try to find your sweet spot.

Eat a large fat- and protein-dominated meal within three hours of bedtime.
Meals of at least 800 milligrams of cholesterol (four or more large whole eggs) and 40 grams of protein produced dramatically faster time-to-sleep scores than meals of lower volume or lower protein and fat. Eating two rib-eye steaks, each about three-quarters of a pound, had the strongest tranquilizer-like effect.

Use light cues like The Philips Golite.
Clinical studies show that using The Phillips GoLite or other similar products for 10-20 minutes in the morning can be a consistent way to put yourself to sleep within ten minutes at night. It also has the added benifit of incresing energy and mood.

Tax the nervous system with iso-lateral movements.
Exercise is often recommended for better sleep but often exercises later in the day can actually increase energy and ruin sleep. A work around to this is trying to incorporate iso-lateral (one-arm or one-leg) resistance training. The more complex the stabilization required, the shorter the to-sleep time.

Take a cold bath one hour prior to bed.
Cold exposure has been proven to increase onset sleep time. By having an ice bath for ten minutes before bed it can be as powerful as sleeping drugs. I quick tip if you cant work up the courage to have a full ice bath (like me) try filling a large pot or container with ice water and sticking your head in for as long as you can a few times. I got this trick from Dave Asprey and its a good way to get big benefits with the least amount of suffering.

Resort to the half military crawl position

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Lie on your chest with your head on a pillow and turned to the right. Both arms should be straight by your sides, palms up. Now bring your right arm up until the top of your right elbow is bent at 90 degrees and your hand is close to your head. Alternative hand placement: the right hand is under your pillow and under your head. Next, bring your right knee out to that side until it is bent at approximately 90 degrees. This is a last resort that works for one simple reason: you can’t move. you have to first lift your entire body off the bed. Less fidgeting means faster sleep.

A couple of tips for waking up also include timing when to wake up so you're waking up during a light sleep phase. To calculate when to wake up try using this website. Another method is using a sun alarm clock that gradually lights up to wake you up more naturally.

If you want to learn more about sleep I got a lot of this info from the book The Four Hour Body by Tim Ferriss and Head Strong by Dave Asprey.