Sleep is an essential part of recovery for athletes
Even a successful Olympian like Sarah De Nutte sometimes needs a short nap during a hard day of training! Generally, sleep is an essential part of recovery for athletes to recharge their batteries.
Here are some simple tips for athletes to recover faster with good sleep hygiene:
- quality over quantity: sleep is made up of different components, and everyone needs different amounts of sleep. Therefore, it is more important to focus on the quality of sleep rather than the total length.
- bedtime, not screen time: electronic devices such as televisions, computers and smartphones emit bright, blue light that inhibits the body’s own clock from initiating sleep. Melatonin production is suppressed and sleep does not set in as quickly. People also get distracted by social media, incoming emails and the need to catch up before bed. It is best to keep the phone away from your bed.
- nap timing: your body determines when you should sleep and when you should wake up. Therefore, it is very important that you regularly go to bed and get up at the same time. If a poor night’s sleep leads to an afternoon nap, you will have difficulty going back to sleep at the usual time at night. If you feel the need for a nap, keep it short, about 20 minutes. A short nap can be very beneficial for recovery, but a long nap can be counterproductive.
- body temperature: avoid an elevated core body temperature before bedtime. The body strives to cool down during the night. Exercising just before bedtime is therefore rarely a good idea. In addition to raising core temperature, it also raises adrenaline levels. Allow yourself enough rest after a workout to cool down before you go to bed. A cool shower may not help much with cooling down your core temperature, but a hot bath just before bed can actually be counterproductive.
- nutrition: there are no specific guidelines as to nutrition before bedtime, but large meals should be avoided as they again influence our natural body clock. It is important though to fill your energy stores after a training and give the body the chance to recover the energy, but this should not be done shortly before bedtime. There is small evidence that some protein-rich foods may improve sleep as well as high glycemic index foods taken at least 4 hours before bed. Excessive hydration should be avoided, as many athletes will otherwise wake up at night because they need to use the bathroom.