SLEEP LIKE AN EXCEPTIONAL ATHLETE

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.

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Tired eyes, bed hair, stretch marks and the bump

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!

 

THE UPS AND DOWNS OF MY FIRST TRIMESTER

I’m starting a series on this blog based around my own experiences as an expectant mum (HOW GROWN UP) and as a pre-& post-natal qualified personal trainer.

This first post is more about my own experiences in the first trimester but coming up are my tips on how to exercise in your first 3 months of pregnancy as well as some workouts you can do yourself.

With all the early pregnancy tests that are about now, women are finding out earlier and earlier that they’re pregnant which isn’t necessarily a good thing as it can prolong the first trimester worrying. I found out I was pregnant about 10 days before my period was due which meant that I couldn’t relax until I was over that first mini obstacle of actually missing a period.

Unfortunately I’d had a devastating miscarriage towards the end of last year which started a few days after my missed period so once I got past that point with this pregnancy I definitely breathed a big sigh of relief.

Weeks 4 -6 were a doddle to be honest, I was just ravenously hungry 24 hours a day and bursting with this big secret that I was sharing with just the hubby. I had to have pre-lunch sandwiches as well as constant snacks but apart from that I felt pretty good. I was just about managing to keep up my exercise schedule with 2-3 sessions each week plus a swim and some lengthy dog walks. I did notice that my bedtime was creeping earlier and earlier (which was great because bed = life). At the end of week 6 we had an early scan to put my mind at rest after the miscarriage. There is nothing quite as life-changing as seeing a little heartbeat on the screen and knowing that it’s growing inside your body. There were many tears from both of us.

The day that I turned 7 weeks was when it all went a bit tits up. For 2 weeks I could hardly eat as I felt horribly sick all day everyday. Any food that I thought I might have fancied turned my stomach after a few bites so I survived on water, melon and plain tortilla chips. A delightful side-effect of pregnancy is the incessant bloating, even when your stomach is completely empty. Needless to say exercise was very limited to Pip’s local daily walk and that took everything out of me. Along with daily naps I was in bed asleep by 8:30pm every night and sleeping solidly until 7am the following morning.

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At 9 weeks, having lost half a stone in weight, with the help of some Sea Band acupressure bracelets I started to come round and began to eat again which was a welcome boost of energy. However, my taste buds have changed and food is still a bit of a constant battle. Here’s a current list of everything that I’ve gone off that I previously loved:

Chocolate

Ice cream

Anything with onions in

Gravy

Red meat

Green vegetables, particularly broccoli

 

In week 10 I started some early morning shifts at the local gym which meant getting up at 5:15am a few mornings a week. Needless to say, by 1pm I was often asleep on the sofa and still going to bed at 8pm. First trimester exhaustion is like no other tiredness I’ve ever experienced (yet. I know when the little one arrives it’ll be on another level). I did manage to start working out again which felt brilliant. However, I limited it to some light weights and plenty of stretching and pelvic floor & core strengthening. Whilst you can continue exercising as you used to during your early pregnancy, I hadn’t worked out in over a month so I didn’t want to cripple myself straight away. Also, my heart rate increased much quicker than normal during a workout so I kept my rest periods long and weights light.

Weeks 11 and 12 continued in much the same way, sometimes feeling nauseous, sometimes being ravenously hungry but always being exhausted. My 12 week scan however was a huge high point as we got to see the little bubba doing somersaults and waving at us. Obviously, there were a lot more tears.

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So all in all, the first trimester has been a bit up and down and my body is slowly starting to feel like it doesn’t belong to me anymore (I’m looking at you boobs, why couldn’t you have grown like this when I was a teenager?!). Now that I’m nearly at week 15 my energy is coming back in fits and starts so I’ve started to work out again but I’m being sensible and listening to my body.

Despite the moaning, I feel incredibly lucky and privileged to be able to go through this journey as I know many women can’t who want to. I also know how life-changing a miscarriage can be and how no one really speaks about their experiences of it until you mention that you’ve gone through it.

The little bean that I lost will always be in my heart. If you’ve been through or are going through something similar and want to talk to someone then please feel free to reach out to me. It really helped me to talk to people who’d been through the same experience as I felt that they understood so thank you to everyone who listened to me through that tough time and shared their own heart-breaking stories with me.