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Those of us with young children will understand how a lack of sleep affects us both emotionally and physically. Chronic sleep deprivation – two to four hours over a two-week period – will affect performance in the same way as going without sleep for 24 hours.
Sleep is the body's way of resetting and re-establishing the equilibrium. This is from a metabolic, hormonal and nervous system perspective. As with most things we are all individual and require different amounts of sleep to function optimally, but most people have a good idea of how much sleep they require. A good guideline for healthy adults is between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night.
If you normally fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed and wake up naturally in the morning feeling refreshed, then you're probably getting enough sleep. But if you find that you struggle to get to sleep and have restless nights then you may not be; paying attention to your sleep hygiene may help. Often athletes find that they sleep perfectly well for most of the time, but during competition when nerves start to set in, their sleep becomes disrupted.
In my experience of working with professional athletes, sleep is a topic that is often high on the agenda, more specifically the role that nutrition can play in aiding sleep. There are a growing number of products that are designed to help support sleep these include pillows, eye patches, lamps and nutrition supplements. However, before we look at how we can improve sleep it is important to understand the things that we do that are having a negative impact on sleep.
Our sleep habits are often referred to as sleep hygiene. Many good sleep hygiene habits may seem like common sense, but it is surprising how often athletes overlook this and make simple mistakes that have a detrimental impact on the quality of their sleep. Below are some steps you can take to improve your sleep hygiene:
There is not a great deal of scientific evidence behind the positive impact of nutrition on sleep, but the anecdotal evidence from athletes and members of the general population is extremely convincing. Whilst there is no doubt that some of the effects may be down to placebo, I have personally seen positive results with athletes that I work with. Why not try:
People are becoming more aware of the importance of sleep and this is never truer than for athletes. If you are concerned about your sleep some information provided here may be useful. Modern technology is also helping to provide support around sleep, many fitness watches and trackers can provide quantifiable data on the quantity and quality of your sleep.
There are many factors that can affect sleep, if you are someone who suffers from poor sleep try making some changes suggested above and you will no doubt see an improvement in your sleep and performance.
Nigel Mitchell is Technical Lead for the English Institute of Sport, nutritionist for British Sailing and an honorary senior lecturer at the University of Portsmouth.
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Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible, supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.