Poor sleep doesn’t just make you tired, it also means slow recovery, declining performance and a susceptibility to injury and illness. Here’s how to improve things in the bedroom.
Things to do
1. Eat to sleep: It’s not a good idea to eat a big meal within four hours of bedtime, but some foods are known to have sleep-inducing effects. Many contain the natural sleep-inducing chemical tryptophan, which is found in turkey, red meat, tuna, shellﬁsh, bananas, spinach, nuts, seeds and Marmite. Dairy products are also a good source.
2. Sleep more: Research at California’s Stanford University has shown that extending sleep times to 10 hours a day over seven weeks leads to faster race times and quicker reactions.
3. Be regular: The body loves routine. Training, eating dinner and going to bed at around the same time each day will help set your body clock so your body and mind automatically shut down at the same time each night by habit.
4. Take a bath: Although a hot bath about an hour and a half before bedtime will raise your body temperature – and heart rate with it – the sudden drop in body temperature when you get out has been proven to trigger sleepiness.
5. Turn the light off: Light in the bedroom can mess with your pineal gland’s production of the healing sleep hormones melatonin and serotonin. This goes for the bathroom too if you need to get up in the night. Low level night lights are the answer to avoid a stubbed toe or ‘spillages’.
6. Decaff your cuppa: Tea contains caffeine but it also contains theophylline, which helps dilate veins and blood vessels, improving circulation and helping your body cool down – which can start off your sleep reﬂex. You can decaffeinate your tea by simply pouring the tea twice, throwing away the ﬁrst ‘rinse’ – and most of the caffeine with it – after about 30 seconds, and then drinking the second infusion. Tea also contains theobromine, which stimulates renal circulation and makes you need a wee – something you want to get out of the way before you head for bed!
7. Sniff and snore: Pack your pillow with lavender, orange blossom or Scot’s pine. The smell of hops is also said to work, but don’t rely on a partner’s beery snoring.
8. Heat up and down: Wear socks to avoid cold feet, but turn the heating down in the bedroom. Ideal sleeping temperature is 17-21 degrees C.
9. Ride to rest: Research at Stanford University showed that subjects were able to sleep about 45 minutes longer each night and fall asleep 15 minutes earlier after they had followed a moderate intensity exercise programme for 16 weeks. But don’t exercise too late in the day or you could upset your body’s circadian rhythms. Most research suggests you need a ﬁve-hour gap between exercise and bedtime. Athletes’ average power outputs peak at 6pm, so still time to get to sleep by 11pm.
10. Bigger is better: A standard double bed (4ft 6in) gives each partner 2ft 3in of space to sleep in – not much wider than a baby’s cot. If a bad back is ruining your sleep don’t listen to futon evangelists; get a softer, not harder mattress. Research carried out by the Kovacs Foundation in Spain showed back pain sufferers were twice as likely to report improvements in lower back pain when they trialled medium-firm rather than firm mattresses.
Things to avoid
1. Don’t eat enemies to sleep: Sugar, caffeine and alcohol.
- Caffeine raises heart rate and blood pressure. It also suppresses production of melatonin which helps us relax and prepare for sleep, for up to 10 hours, at the same time boosting adrenaline.
- Sugar in your blood stream plays havoc with the production of adrenal hormones, keeping you awake as your body busies itself processing your pre-bedtime snack, and you’ll wake up when your blood sugar drops too low.
- Alcohol is a well known relaxant and switches off adrenaline production, but it disturbs the different stages of sleep and causes poor quality rest and dehydration.
2. Don’t overtrain: A disrupted sleep pattern is a sure sign you’re training too hard and upsetting the body’s rhythm. Back off and see if your sleeping recovers.
3. Don’t clock watch: Remove the clock; waking in the night is bad enough without being able to work out how few hours there are left before you have to get up. Loud alarms are a rude awakening too; many swear by ‘rising sun’ alarm clocks that slowly light up the room and wake you au naturel.