This post is in conjunction with TEMPUR® but all thoughts are my own.
Anyone who knows me will know that my bed is probably my favourite place on earth and sleeping is of the utmost importance to me. I find that the sweet spot is around 8 hours per night for me, particularly as I’m a light sleeper and I’m very unlikely to sleep solidly through the night.
This optimum sleep time will increase or decrease depending on the level of physical activity that I’m doing at any given time and I definitely notice my physical performance taking a hit if I don’t sleep well as my muscles don’t repair themselves fully. But what do the professionals have to say about sleep and its relation to athletic performance?
One of my idols is Serena Williams (did I ever tell you about the time I played tennis with her?) and she has been sleeping on a Tempur mattress for the last 10 years. She credits the mattress and pillows for relieving pressure points while she sleeps allowing her to get up and hit the court in top condition. More recently she has been loving her mattress to increase her sleep during pregnancy as she went from around 5 hours per night up to around 8.
Cheri Mah of the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory authored a study in 2009 that followed the Stanford University women’s tennis team as they attempted to get 10 hours of sleep every night for 5 weeks. She found that they sprinted faster and hit a higher number of accurate shots than when they were getting their normal amount of sleep.
The one aspect that comes up over and over again is how athletes at the top of their game are prioritising sleep in their training schedules. Simone Biles, Roger Federer and Michael Phelps all look at their sleep in the run up to big competitions and make sure that they are achieving the optimum amount of sleep for them and their bodies. This even goes as far as readjusting their sleep patterns well in advance of competing abroad to align their times of being awake with the competition times.
So although it’s shown that one bad night’s sleep won’t hugely affect your athletic ability, it’s clear that consistently appropriate amounts of sleep for you and your body will keep you performing at the top of your game. How does that apply to those of us who aren’t olympic athletes though?
Here are my top tips on how to get the most out of your night’s sleep:
1) Have a set bedtime routine: I can’t go to bed without having a shower, no matter how late it is or how tired I am. That shower is the signal to my body to start slowing down and I’m typically asleep within half an hour of getting out of the shower.
2) Limit screen time: We live in a hyper-connected world and sometimes it’s difficult to switch off, literally and figuratively. Try reading before bed to limit the amount of blue light shining in your eyes and to slowly switch off your brain.
3) Essential oils: Recently I’ve been putting lavender oil into my humidifier at night and it’s helping me to drift off to a familiar smell each night. Alternatively you can buy pillow mists or even just keep a bag of dried lavender next to your bed and give it a scrunch each night as you get into bed.
4) Write out your to-do list: Every night I try to write out my urgent to-do list for the following day so that I don’t wake up at 3am panicking that I’ve forgotten something. It means that I can get up with a clear head and attack each day from the start.
5) Don’t be afraid to reset: If you do wake up in the night, which I do nearly every night, I find it useful to get out of bed and reset my brain rather than stressing about the fact that I’m awake. That could include going to the loo, getting a glass of water or reading a book for a little while.
My sleep patterns have been getting increasingly erratic as I progress through this pregnancy to the point where, at 8.5 months pregnant, I now sleep in about 45 minute bursts, punctuated with all sorts of pain in my back and hips, acid reflux and countless trips to the loo. With only a couple of weeks left until we get to meet our little one I’m trying to think ahead to when I start working out again and how I can optimise my sleep with a baby.
Serena Williams prioritised her sleep after the birth of her daughter and she says that’s how she was able to make it to yet another Wimbledon final a mere 10 months after giving birth. While I’m not aiming to make it to Centre Court, I will be taking her tips on trying to get as much sleep as possible to let the body recover and work at an athletic level again. Watch this space!