7 Tips – Secrets to Improving Sleep Quality and Recovery

Improving Sleep Quality - Tim Wiggins
Sleep is the primary pillar of effective recovery—getting enough quality sleep is therefore fundamental to endurance sports performance. I have learnt the hard way what a lack of sleep can do to your health, wellbeing, and cycling success; in this post I look at seven of those lessons, and tips on how you can improve your sleep quality and recovery.

Getting 7-9 hours of sleep every night is a critical part of recovery. It is during the deep sleep period that our bodies begin to fully repair and rejuvenate themselves; readying themselves for the next effort. Key growth hormones are released when you are in undisturbed sleep—so it makes it a fundamental part of performance improvement.


1 – The Sleep Routine

The most important ingredient in getting superior quality sleep on a regular basis, is to create a regular sleeping schedule. You often hear people say "I wake up at the same time, even when I am tired…"—this is natural—it is because our bodies like routine, and so we have a subconscious instinct to rise at the same time each day. This can be aggravating when you want to sleep in at the weekends, but the reality is that in order to get quality rest you need to be going to bed and getting up at the same time—every day of the week.

Getting into a regular bedtime and morning routine will help to keep consistency in your sleep schedule. Where at all possible, set yourself a timetable for when you need to go to sleep e.g. 20:30 – TV off, screens off. 20:45 – Finish prep for tomorrow. 21:00 – In bed, read for 30 minutes. 21:30 – Asleep.

I use a reminder on my phone to tell me to put my phone down and get ready for bed. Once in bed, I use a Lumie Bodyclock to regulate my sleep cycle—the Lumie clock uses a natural lighting sequence to soothe you into the sleep cycle, and then also to wake you up in the morning. The natural warm UV light from the Lumie clock progressively dims in 'sunset' phase and brightens for the 'sunrise' alarm. The gentle dimming and wakeup mimic a natural light pattern, which is far less unsettling to the body's natural rhythm than the sudden jerk out of sleep from your standard alarm call.



2 – Zero Blue Light

Hard blue light emitted by many LEDs, phones, tablets, and laptop screens is known to cause irritation and stop your body from relaxing. Switch off your screens a good 30 minutes before you head to bed, and try to read by a natural light like that emitted from the Lumie Bodyclock—it will be kinder on the eyes and mind, and allow your body to feel more relaxed.



3 – Zero Distractions

Ear plugs are an essential piece of sleeping kit. Silicone mouldable ear plugs are comfortable and stay put throughout the night. Whenever I am travelling or have a noisy bedroom environment, I ensure I pack a few pairs of earplugs to avoid unwanted wakeups and disruptions to your sleep cycle.



4 – Magnesium

Magnesium is necessary for enzymatic reactions and quality sleep. It is an electrolyte found in many food sources; however recent research suggests that many people do not actually get their recommended daily intake of the mineral.

Magnesium helps enzymatic reactions that convert food to energy for fuel. Low levels of magnesium in your blood have a serious effect on performance and sleep—the body can only really store magnesium within your bones, so if you are deficient in your blood supply your body is forced to extract the mineral from the bone. The bone extraction is a slow process, and hence if you are asking your body to do it during exercise or sleep (so that magnesium can help in energy conversion), then it will likely result in a feeling of lethargy and irritability—similar to if you have low blood sugar levels.

Magnesium occurs in many food sources: including seeds, greens, nuts (cashews and peanuts in particular), brown rice, and quinoa. Despite this, it can be difficult to get enough in your diet. If you suspect deficiency, then magnesium supplementation may be wise—especially as excess magnesium is naturally passed from your body with ease.

I get my bedtime magnesium top-up from the great 'Sleep' tea range from Tea Plus. Sleep+ Tea has magnesium, chamomile, and lavender herbs—to help calm you and improve sleep quality. Check out the range at teaplusdrinks.com.

Tea Plus Sleep Tea


5 – Protein

A lack of protein has been identified as one of the reasons that people wake up during the night feeling hungry or fatigued. Proteins are the building blocks of rejuvenation, but they are also a lot more sustaining than carbohydrates. Ensuring that you have enough protein in your diet throughout the day will ensure you do not wake up with an empty stomach or low blood sugar level, and ensure your body has the necessary fuel it needs to repair tired muscles.

Protein Rich Meal


6 – Caffeine and Alcohol

Caffeine and alcohol are both known to disturb sleep quality.

I have a strict midday caffeine cut-off now. It took some time to train myself to stick to that. Luckily, I have discovered some nice decaffeinated coffees—check out IslandRoasted.co.uk—letting me to still enjoy that afternoon coffee and cake treat.

I have also long had the nickname 'T-Total Timmy'. I am not going to advocate or suggest that everyone avoids alcohol, but for me it has made a significant difference to how well I sleep. I would simply suggest drinking in moderation and avoiding drinking too late in the evening.



7 – Natural Surroundings

The best temperature for sleeping is 18 degrees Celsius. Hotter than this and your body is working to keep cool; much colder than this and your body is working to stay warm. Open your window to allow fresh air to circulate in your room, but also try and keep a stable room temperature at around 18 degrees.

My grandad used to have a wise saying "spend as much as you can on your bed and shoes—for when you are not in one, you are in the other". I am a great advocate of investing in quality natural sleeping materials; in the form of feather or down duvets and pillows, an excellent quality natural (non-foam) mattress, and cotton bed linen. I believe that natural bedding is far better for your body—as it provides a natural material for your skin to be in contact with and has greater natural breathability.



*Extra Tip* – Weighted Blanket Benefits

Weighted blankets are a home therapy that can deliver benefits of deep pressure therapy—to aid sleep quality. Deep pressure stimulation uses hands-on pressure to relax the nervous system; potentially helping to relieve pain, lessen anxiety, and improve mood.

These blankets have been shown to supply positive results for several conditions; including autism, ADHD, and anxiety. They can help calm a restless body, and reduce the feelings of anxiety that can cause troubled sleep.

I personally experimented with the Bamboo Weighted Blanket from Remy Sleep, and found it did have a notable positive effect on nights when I felt restless or had twitching and tired muscles—the weighted blanket feels a little like a giant comforting hug, or like wearing light compression wear in bed. It could well be worth looking into if you are a restless sleeper.

Remy Weighted Blanket


Summary

Quality sleep is fundamental to endurance cycling performance—Team Sky were one of the first to recognise this, when they made the decision take their own bedding and air conditioning units to hotels.

Sleep is not so much a 'marginal gain' though, as a necessity. Hopefully ticking off some of the above suggestions for improved sleep quality could give your health, wellbeing, and cycling a notable boost.



Comments

  1. Nice essay and photos . You are what you eat and how you sleep .

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for the tip about the weighted blankets!

    ReplyDelete

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