Sleep on it

Poor sleep doesn’t just make you tired: it’s bad for recovery, performance and your immune system. Here’s how to get better in the bedroom…


Eat to sleep
It’s not a good idea to eat a big meal within four hours of bedtime, but some foods are known to have sleep-inducing effects. Many contain the natural sleep-inducing chemical tryptophan, which is found in turkey, red meat, tuna, shellfish, bananas, spinach, nuts, seeds and Marmite. Dairy products are also a good source.

Sleep more
Research at California’s Stanford University has shown that extending sleep times to 10 hours a day over seven weeks leads to faster race times and quicker reactions.

Be regular
The body loves routine. Training, eating dinner and going to bed at around the same time each day will help set your body clock so your body and mind automatically shut down at the same time each night by habit.

Take a bath
Although a hot bath about an hour and a half before bedtime will raise your body temperature – and heart rate with it – the sudden drop in body temperature when you get out has been proven to trigger sleepiness.

Turn the light off
Light in the bedroom can mess with your pineal gland’s production of the healing sleep hormones melatonin and serotonin. This goes for the bathroom too if you need to get up in the night. Low-level night lights are the answer to avoid a stubbed toe or ‘spillages’.

Decaff your cuppa
Tea contains caffeine but it also contains theophylline, which helps dilate veins and blood vessels, improving circulation and helping your body cool down – which can start off your sleep reflex. You can decaffeinate your tea by simply pouring the tea twice, throwing away the first ‘rinse’ – and most of the caffeine with it – after about 30 seconds, and then drinking the second infusion. Tea also contains theobromine, which stimulates renal circulation and makes you need a wee – something you want to get out of the way before you head for bed!

Sniff and snore
Pack your pillow with lavender, orange blossom or Scot’s pine. The smell of hops is also said to work, but don’t rely on a partner’s beery snoring.

Heat up and down
Wear socks to avoid cold feet, but turn the heating down in the bedroom. Ideal sleeping temperature is 17C to 21C.

Ride to rest
Research at Stanford University showed that subjects were able to sleep about 45 minutes longer each night and fall asleep 15 minutes earlier after they had followed a moderate intensity exercise programme for 16 weeks. But don’t exercise too late in the day or you could upset your body’s circadian rhythms. Most research suggests you need a five-hour gap between exercise and bedtime.


Eat your enemies
Sugar, caffeine and alcohol are your enemies when it comes to a sound night’s sleep. Caffeine raises heart rate and blood pressure. It also suppresses melatonin production, which helps us relax for up to 10 hours, at the same time boosting adrenaline. Sugar in your blood stream plays havoc with the production of adrenal hormones, keeping you awake as your body busies itself processing your pre-bedtime snack, and you’ll wake up when your blood sugar drops too low. Alcohol is a well-known relaxant and switches off adrenaline production, but it disturbs the different stages of sleep and causes poor quality rest and dehydration.

Disrupted sleep is a sign you’re training too hard and upsetting the body’s rhythm. Back off and see if your sleep recovers.

Clock watch
Remove the clock; waking in the night is bad enough without being able to work out how few hours there are left before you have to get up. Loud alarms are a rude awakening too; many swear by ‘rising sun’ alarm clocks that slowly light up the room and wake you au naturel.

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