Everybody is aware that sleep is paramount, however, it is not that important that we would pay attention to it. What do I mean? Let‘s check.
Probably we do know that 7–8 hours of sleep seems to be enough, but do we sleep that much? Probably we do know that it is better not to check a phone or watch TV just before going to sleep, but we still watch it? Probably we have heard some other advises how to improve sleep quality, but do we ever follow them?
During one practice BC Žalgiris strength and conditioning coach, Jutinas Grainys, told „the important factors in basketball are: sleep, nutrition and trainings. However, trainings make only 20% of importance but sleep and nutrition have 40% each.” The same was told by Zac Cupples in the podcast : “If we could get everyone [basketball players] to sleep more and eat little bit healthier, it would transcend basketball games”.
However, don’t get me wrong. This does not mean that 80% of basketball abilities will be reached just by sleeping and eating healthy. This shows that we are so advanced in basketball and the limiting performance's factors are sleep and nutrition. Therefore, maybe we need to improve not the training quality/quantity but the sleeping and nutritional habits.
Only for last 3-4 years sleep is priority for me. I read, listen and research about it. Moreover, I included sleep in my master thesis work. Probably what I saw in the thesis and in surrounding environment encouraged me to write this article.
What surprised me the most? Athletes didn't know how to evaluate their sleep; did not understand what does it mean to get good quality of sleep and what good quantity and quality of sleep can give to one.
There are evidences that sleep extension could improve your 3pt shooting percentage up to 9%! (Mah et al., 2011)
Sometimes we used to have departure to a road games or have a training earlier than a person usually would wake up. Who can then assure that the person will be at his/her top during the game/practice if the body is still in the state of sleeping?? Therefore, I decided to provide few advises, how you, athletes, and us, general population, could improve sleep quality.
1. Prepare yourself for sleep.
Sleep starts even before falling asleep.
Unfortunately, it is very common to see family members or close friends sitting in front of TV, PC or mobile phones just before going to sleep. Probably we do not even realize that this time before bed-time affect the sleep quality and, consequently, it impact the next day too!
All those new technologies are very recent among contemporary society and long-term devices’ impact to us is not clear yet. However, what is cleared by scientist — they produce blue-light.
How does blue-light affect us?
Impairs sleep quality and time; Increases amount of awakenings during the night (Link)
Who am I to forbid to use phone or to watch TV before going to bed, but at least I will recommend to reduce blue-light impact.
What could you do differently?
Cell phones and computers:
Download special programs or apps that would reduce blue light in your computer and cell phone (e.g., blue-light filter). Those apps/programs will make your screen little bit reddish and reduce the blue-light (duh). Some of devices can already have blue-light filters, e.g., in the laptop I use a state called “night light”. New version of Apple’s products do have it too.
If possible, ask yourself “do I really want to watch this TV show, match, movie or do I watch it just because the sake of it”?
Probably a single night will not change your life quality in a long-term period. However, if you’re watching TV daily I would encourage to ask yourself, “why do I watch it?”
If you still can’t imagine your life without TV — these glasses (or similar type) could be a solution for you (link-to-cool-glasses). Yeah, I agree that they aren’t very stylish but they are not designed to go-out. They are used when you are comfortably sitting in front of TV or PC during late evenings. Give it a try, I recommend!
2. Control your environment.
Reduce the intensity and amount of light in the room.
Personally, very commonly I use candle light in the evenings which do not have a blue-light.
Just try to avoid direct light exposure and your sleep quality will improve. Probably, I will not surprise you if I will say that even here we can sacrifice few dollars and contribute to our sleep quality. These are the special light bulbs (link) and I would encourage to order few and change in those places where you spend most of the time during evenings.
During the summer nights, I would highly recommend to use blind blockers or something else to cover your bedroom’s windows, especially if you are living in Finland, where nights aren’t very “nights”. I do not suggest you to cover windows with blankets, however, based on my own experience — it works very well!
Many thousands of years we used to live in not so well heated or windproof houses. Therefore, very likely, our bodies have adjusted to that. Look at the body’s temperature during 24h period and try to find similarities with the daily outside temperature.
Have you ever noticed that during hot summer nights it is really hard to fall asleep or sleep quality isn’t very good? This is the explanation - our body is not able to drop core temperature down.
It looks like that in the mornings and throughout the day our temperature is raising (likewise outside) until the certain point in the evening. Then we can observe the decrease of temperature in both cases and at the night it gets to the lowest degree. Therefore, if we would not allow body’s temperature to drop up to optimal level, probably, our sleep quality will be impaired (Murphy and Campbell, 1997).
Sometimes you might get to the bed at the right time, and sleep duration might look reasonable, and you’re not stressing about anything, however, quality of sleep still doesn’t satisfy you. Then I might ask, how does your bedroom look like?
It is recommended to keep as little electronic devices as possible in the bedroom. Although they are turned off, they still compromise your sleep quality (link).
I do agree that it might not be possible to bring devices to another room, or just get rid of them, but at least turn them off from electric socket (that any light would not gleam). Also, if you are using a phone as an alarm, make sure it is not next to your bed.
And if, very briefly, we would talk about your bed, Nick Littlehales (known as “sleep coach”) in his book would suggest you not only stop watching TV in bed but reading in bed too! The author says that we could make associations that bed is not only for sleep but to read/watch TV. Bed, according to him, has to be just for sleep and…
As we have an adage in Lithuania “you harvest, what you sow”. Therefore, this analogy can be used as “the way you start mornings, impacts the rest of the day”.
The very first thing in the morning what you have to do — make your bed. Why? William McRaven has a 6 minutes answer.
Do you still start your day by checking the phone or laptop? Or is TV for you always as background? If yes and it feels good for you — keep doing the same. But I encourage you to try do not turn any devices on for first 30–90 minutes after awakening.
Do you really feel more peaceful and relaxed after checking social media and email?
Yes, I really suggest not to take a phone if your are going to scroll down in social media or news portal. If you do not have anything specific what you want/need to check — then don’t. Do not fill up your head with useless news, it fill be filled anyway along the day.
Try to dedicate the morning for yourself/ family and doing activity you would like to do. Some of you would go to jog because you can’t fit exercise in your tight schedule; maybe you are preparing for an exam and you will start the day by preparing for it or you will just make your favorite breakfast.
4. Naps. Power naps.
Do we need to nap? Some might say yes, others — no, however, if you would ask me I would say ABSOLUTELY!
How else we could regain the sleep loss? How else we could recover better after morning workout and before evening’s session? Sleep is the best mean to recover would say many authors and sport coaches (Halson, 2014).
However, it has to be controlled! You can‘t just pass out in the middle of the day and sleep for 5 hours. We all know that it will impair your night sleep. So shortly, I wouldn't change napping for night sleep, meaning, if you will nap, it has to have no negative affect on night sleep.
You might find many recommendations for power-naps but I would recommend you not to have longer than 90 minutes (unless you are working on night shifts).
For myself, I take naps everywhere but very rarely they are 30minutes or longer. Most of my power-naps (or I call them “system’s resets) last 6–12 minutes from the time I put my head down until I check my watch again. All sleepiness dissipates, attention is back and I am ready to go 100%.
5. Can’t fall asleep?
It might be that often you will be stressed about the meetings you have tomorrow or calls that you have to make next day. Some might be thinking about upcoming game or about the shoot that he/she missed..
How can you relax and fall asleep?
Get out of bed. Take a pen and sheet of paper and write… Write EVERYTHING. Everything that is in your head at the moment. All the meetings, calls or that missed shot. It might look silly at the moment for you but the effectiveness of this method will blow your mind.
Another method could be very similar. Get out of the bed — you probably don’t want to sleep yet. Go and do something else — like reading, cleaning, walking outside or even relaxing stretching exercises. But don’t even dare to take your phone or laptop — remember the blue-light that we have already talked about. It will not help you to fall asleep.
And last but not least method how you might relax yourself is not easy. At least you don’t need to get out of the bed, however, you have to concentrate on… Breathing. Yes, breathing. According to Mark Verstegen book “Every day is game day” you could use:
I highly recommend you to try these breathing variations not only when struggling to fall asleep but when you are stressed too. I guarantee it will help you.
I honestly wish you to take advantage of these advises because it was the aim of this article. I really wish you to enhance your sleep quality and feel what does it like to get adequate amount of sleep (not too little or not too much). You would improve not only your next day productivity but probably people who surround you would be in better mood just because you cheer them up.
Give it a try.
Write if you want to know more about sleep. Tell me if advises have helped you. Ask if something is unclear.
This is what I call BalticSleep!