Author: Mike Shaw, Co-founder of HeadStartPro Performance Training
Have you ever had one of those mornings when you woke up, and it was hard to lift your head off the pillow?
For most people, the answer is yes, and for some people, the answer is, “yes, is there ever a day when it’s easy!?”
If you’ve been following along in previous articles, we talk about effective ways to recognize and self-trigger on fatigue to boost focus and keep your eyes and mind on task. The self-trigger technique helps prevent critical errors and mistakes when you’re tired, but there are other measures we can take to fight fatigue. It all begins with one essential activity—improving the quality of your sleep.
Here are five rules, rituals, and routines for better sleep:
1. Ditch Your Device! No Screen Time 1-hr Before Bed.
What’s the last thing you do before going to bed at night, scroll Instagram, or Facebook? Check your email one last time? Watch funny cat videos?
If you answer “yes” to any one of the above, you are compromising your circadian rhythm and your sleep quality. You might be thinking, “What is my circadian rhythm?” Your circadian rhythm is essentially your 24-hour internal clock that regulates when you feel awake or tired throughout the day.
The problem is, when you stare at your phone or device screen before bed, the blue light tricks your body into thinking it should be awake. Blue light simulates daylight, which alters your body’s natural rhythm. Ideally, we should all get natural sunlight exposure early in the day, so that once it starts to get dark, we begin to feel tired. When your eyes detect darkness, it sends a signal to your body to produce melatonin—the hormone that regulates your sleep cycle. Blue light filters on your device can help, but the best option is to ditch the device well ahead of bedtime.
One of the strategies we talk about in HeadStartPro is working on performance-related habits to compensate for complacency. Habit-forming takes repetition and effort. Grooming yourself to leave the phone alone before bed will take some effort. If your willpower isn’t cutting it, plug your phone in across the room so that you won’t lie in bed scrolling for funny cat videos.
2. Do you really need that last cup of Joe? No caffeine after 2 PM.
Speaking of melatonin, caffeine affects the neurotransmitters that signal the production of melatonin. Drinking one cup of coffee, containing approximately 250mg of caffeine, can leave you feeling energized for 4-6 hours. The problem is, once the initial buzz wears off, we can probably fall asleep, but the effects of the caffeine keep on keeping on. One cup of coffee can have lasting consequences for up to 8 hours. It will take 8 hours for the caffeine to clear your system before your body produces its normal levels of melatonin and falls into a deep, restorative sleep.
Do yourself a favor, avoid caffeine after 2PM.
3. This should go without saying: Avoid Alcohol.
Here’s the deal, alcohol is even worse than caffeine for throwing off your body’s circadian rhythm. It stifles your body’s ability to secrete melatonin and achieve REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement sleep or restorative sleep).
Some people believe that using alcohol as a sleep aid is a good idea because it is said to make you fall asleep quickly and deeply. While alcohol is a depressant and can make you feel tired, it minimizes your body’s ability to produce melatonin in the early stages of the night. Without the presence of melatonin, it’s easy to fall out of sleep. Alcohol’s effects on sleep quality are noticed in the latter part of the night when we should all be experiencing the rejuvenating benefits of REM or dream sleep.
4. Junk Food = Junk Sleep! Proper Nutrition is Key.
Dr. Ana Krieger, MD, MPH, Medical Director of the Center for Sleep Medicine in New York, knows the value of proper nutrition for getting a good night’s sleep. She explains in an NBC Better article, that,
“Eating an overall healthy and nutrient-rich diet affects our brain health and activity—and in turn, our sleep. Data shows that eating less fiber, more saturated fat, and more sugar throughout the day is linked to lighter and less restorative sleep.”
Generally speaking, we know that diet and proper nutrition are tremendously important for athletes. If you want to see a maximum output, you need to put premium fuel in the tank. Factoring in what you eat is inherent, but also, when you eat is crucial for sleep quality. A good rule of thumb is to eat like a lion in the morning and like a lamb in the evening. For better sleep, big meals should be consumed early on in the day, while meals at night should be lighter and high in fiber.
5. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate—ALL DAY.
Most of us are aware that we need to feed our brains with adequate hydration. Proper hydration improves your mental alertness and ability to concentrate because it helps deliver nutrients to the brain and clear away toxins. Opinions vary on how much we should be drinking throughout the day. A good measure is approximately 3-4 liters (96-128 oz), with increased intake when you exercise. However, one rule of thumb to follow is that consistent hydration is key.
Starting your day with a big glass or bottle of water is a good idea, but be sure to keep it up throughout the day. Consistent hydration helps avoid becoming sluggish, irritable, and helps improve cognitive processes. If you wait until the evening to re-hydrate before bed, it’s not an ideal strategy for a couple of reasons. For one, if you drink too much, you’re more likely to get up in the night for multiple bathroom visits. For two, if you are dehydrated, it affects your sleep quality because your breathing pathways can be dry and irritated. The best strategy is to hydrate consistently throughout the day, and while it’s true, a small glass of water before bed will help you sleep, keep it under 500ml (16oz) to avoid those annoying bathroom visits.
What happens if you have one of those nights and don’t sleep well?
Fighting fatigue with better sleep and proper recovery is important. However, if for whatever reason you don’t sleep well because your mind is overactive and the next day you become acutely fatigued at the end of a shift, a race, or a big push, remember to Self-trigger and keep your eyes and mind on task.
These five tips will help you to prevent performance errors and injuries caused by fatigue and poor sleep. In the process, they’ll help you to achieve better results and perform at a higher level. To learn more about how to manage fatigue, check out our online courses, or sign up for an in-person workshop.