Rest is a weapon; sleep deprivation decreases productivity in the office, and on the field. More than 1 out of every 3 Americans doesn’t get enough sleep .
A study by Gradisar et al. (2013) found that a significant portion of adolescents (67%), young adults (67%), middle adults (65%), and older adults (58%) reported not getting enough sleep to function properly . According to a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials by Zhu et al. (2019), sleep restriction can also wreak havoc on metabolism, in healthy adults . Lack of quality sleep can cause increased hunger, increased caloric intake, weight gain, impaired insulin sensitivity, and even activity changes in brain regions related to reward and cognitive control .
Athletes may be even more prone to sleep deprivation and limited daily function than the average person because they tend to have greater difficulty falling and staying asleep [3-6]. Because lack of sleep can result in athletic performance decrements, exercisers and athletes need to be particularly mindful of their sleep habits [7-11]. Even in youth athletes, lack of sleep has been associated with impaired self-reported well-being and increased injury risk [56, 57].
The importance of a solid night’s sleep, athlete or not, cannot be overstated. Use these 5 simple tips to get a better night’s sleep:
1. Caffeine Control
As little as 200mg of caffeine (equivalent to a double espresso) 3 hours before bed can disrupt sleep by interfering with circadian rhythms [12, 13]. It’s becoming clear that heavy caffeine intake, even just during the daytime, may result in sleep disturbance at night [14-18]. The interplay between heavy daytime caffeine consumption and disturbed sleep can turn into a vicious cycle: Disturbed sleep can lead to daytime sleepiness, which may cause heavy caffeine consumption the following day, coming full circle to disturbed sleep, once again, at night . If you’re having trouble sleeping and consume substantial amounts of caffeine, it may be wise to take a hard look at the quantity and timing of your caffeine intake.
Note: If interested, you can also see graphics that breakdown the caffeine contents of different categories of products, such as popular coffee brands, teas, soft drinks, pre-workout supplements, and energy drinks.
2. Lay Off the Nicotine
Similar to caffeine, nicotine promotes arousal and wakefulness  which can impair sleep, particularly when taken (or used) at high doses [20, 21]. If you plan to stop smoking, going cold turkey may not be advisable if you smoke more than a pack a day. Habitual smokers who stop smoking abruptly can experience sleep disturbances, as well . If you’re a habitual nicotine user who would like to improve sleep, try weaning off the substance rather than abruptly quitting altogether. At the very least, try to avoid nicotine close to bedtime.
3. “Chill Out”
Stress before bedtime can cause significant sleep disturbance [23-27]. Luckily, various stress management techniques can instantly reduce stress. To improve sleep, try writing a worry list or a to-do list for the next day, meditating, deep breathing, or practicing various other relaxation techniques before bed [28-31]. High levels of daytime stress can also impair sleep [32-34]. To reduce daytime stress, try practicing mindfulness, focusing on the present, laughing, interacting socially, or exercising; these techniques can drastically reduce daily stress and instantly improve sleep [35-38].
4. Toss the Tech: You May Watch, but Certainly Don’t Play
90% of Americans engage with technology in the hour before going to bed . The type of technology used may matter more than the act of using technology itself. Researchers found that passively using electronic devices before bed, such as watching TV, reading, or listening to music, did not affect sleep . However, stimulating interaction with technology, such as playing video games, browsing on the computer, or using a cell phone, significantly impaired sleep . Whether it be from arousal [39-42], screen light [43, 44], or electronic transmissions , stimulating interactions with technology and sleep quality do not mesh well. New research indicates that the distance between you and your smartphone may impact sleep, as well . Viewing distance in the lying position is shorter than that in the sitting position. It took students longer to fall asleep and their sleep efficiency was decreased when they spent time viewing their smartphones lying down (shorter viewing distance) before bed .
5. Consistency is Key
Going to bed at different times each night and waking up at different times each morning can impair sleep [47-50]. This is a common trait in insomniacs (i.e. people who habitually have trouble sleeping). In fact, having an irregular sleep schedule may cause daytime sleepiness  in addition to poor sleep quality [52, 53]. To optimize your sleep and performance, try your best to be on a consistent sleep-wake schedule [8, 54].
- Avoid heavy caffeine and/or nicotine intake during the day, and any stimulant intake at all in the few hours before bed.
- Reduce stress before bed to improve sleep: meditation, deep breathing, or writing a to-do and/or worry list before bed can help.
- Avoid stimulating technology before bed: playing video games, surfing the web, and using your cell phone are examples of what not to do if you’re trying to improve sleep. If you’re going to use technology, use it passively, instead. Watching TV, reading, or listening to music may not be as harmful to sleep quality.
- Stick to a consistent sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up at around the same time each day can drastically enhance sleep.
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