Do you find yourself waking up each morning feeling drowsy and unrefreshed for the new day? This is a very common issue in the world today and it is reported that more than half of adults worldwide don’t get the recommended 7 hours of sleep each night . Good sleep has a myriad of benefits to achieve good physical and mental health and all of us need this.
In the context of an athlete, sleep deprivation increases the stress hormone called cortisol, which decreases production of energy molecules used during physical activity. In addition to this, the body produces its own muscle-growing hormones while sleeping which initiates muscle growth and tissue repair. So better sleep equals better athletic performance.
When our bodies prepare for sleep or any kind of relaxing activity, we switch on something called the Parasympathetic Nervous System which is a network of long nerve fibres that extend to various organs of our bodies to regulate them. When activated, heart rate and breathing slows down and digestion increases. Normally, our heart displays a usual amount of variability in rhythm (called Heart Rate Variability or HRV) where the heart rate surges with arousal and drops when we start to relax again. However, when an athlete trains long hours every day or someone is continuously stressed, the body becomes more stressed and gets caught in a constant Sympathetic nervous state, a system which opposes the Parasympathetic Nervous System, where you see little to no change in HRV. This means when it comes to winding down for an athlete, it is a lot harder to do get out of this state.
Here we have a list of “5Ps” that anyone can use to down-regulate this system and get a good night’s sleep:
1. Position: In addition to lying down in bed, raising your pelvis slightly higher than your head using a yoga block or pillows will assist in slowing the flow of blood and restricting vasculature in your neck to achieve a relaxing position. There is no “best” position to sleep in but make sure you are comfortable and you have an appropriate pillow and mattress that supports your spine.
2. Palpation: There is a reason why a 30 minute massage session leaves you feeling drowsy and dehydrated. Shearing of the skin and fatty layers sets up reflex relaxation by releasing substances known as endorphins, resulting in decreased blood pressure, pain and increased HRV. Even just grabbing the soft tissues of your body and twisting it can arouse certain nerve endings in the skin to tell the brain it’s time to relax. Swaddling yourself in a thick blanket causes global compression and has similar effects.
3. Pace of breath: The rule of thumb is to exhale twice as longas you inhale in order to relax. Rapid breathing emphasises the inhale phase which stimulates the Sympathetic Nervous System. Also, breathing using our stress muscles creates tension in our neck and shoulders so “tummy” breathing is encouraged where your diaphragm does all the work. You should see your tummy rising with each breath, not your chest. In a quiet and reclined position, breathe in for 4 seconds using your diaphragm, and slowly breathe out for 8seconds; repeat this cycle at least 10 times.
4. Perspective: It is very easy to ponder on next days problems and events or a bad experience that day but don’t cut into your valuable sleep time for issues you can’t resolve in that instance. Surround yourself by positive people, make choices that are less stressful and resolve conflicts that keep you awake at night. Give yourself permission to relax and let tomorrow worry about itself.
5. Place: Ensure the room is as dark as possible by switching off all lights, putting away electronics, wearing an eye mask, etc. Contrary to popular belief, watching TV before bed is not relaxing!
Here are just a few simple strategies that you can apply to get a goodnight’s sleep. The 5 Ps need to happen simultaneously in order to create a sense of quietude all of which takes just 15 minutes to do, which is how long one usually takes to fall asleep. So don’t understand the power of a goodnight’s sleep and give it a go.