Dr Michael Grandner is an expert on sleep and its positive effect on mental well-being and performance for athletes.
Michael has given athletes his best general sleeping tips before and has some recommendations for how you can help athletes to develop positive habits to promote sleep quality.
He advises entourage members to create a rhythm for their athletes and to encourage plenty of light and wind down before bed to maintain a healthy level of sleep.
Find a rhythm
I think one of the things that you can do for athletes is create a routine for themselves that matches their own body. You should encourage them to get some morning light, and if it’s safe to do so, go for a walk outdoors and get some activity outside. The sunlight itself helps engage these rhythms, and when you combine light exposure for 15 to 60 minutes in the morning with some sort of physical activity – whether it’s running, walking, or something else – that combination of movement and light helps set a rhythm for the day.
Athletes will typically be busy in the middle of the day, so in the evening, it’s important you encourage them to tell their own body that it’s wind-down time. This can be achieved through turning the lights down an hour or so before they’re actually planning on going to bed, starting to disconnect from digital and social media, and giving their mind and body a space to wind down and relax.
The body will be looking for a pattern. Encourage your athletes to feed their bodies a pattern that it can follow, which they can build their days around.
THE BODY WILL BE LOOKING FOR A PATTERN. ENCOURAGE YOUR ATHLETES TO FEED THEIR BODIES A PATTERN THAT IT CAN FOLLOW, WHICH THEY CAN BUILD THEIR DAYS AROUND.
DR MICHAEL GRANDNER
If they have trouble winding down, you can suggest they sit quietly, breathe, close their eyes and do a quick body scan.
Starting with the toes, they can work their way up from their legs to their hips, stomach, back, chest and shoulders; from there, to their hands, up to their arms and elbows; and then their neck to the chin and face. Ask that they consider taking stock of any areas of stress and tension, because they may be holding stress in their body without even realising it. Common places are the chin, forehead, and hands.
Winding down time is not the time to solve problems. The problems will still be there tomorrow if they are important; if they’re unimportant, then they won’t. The most helpful thing they can do is make a note to deal with it tomorrow, maybe even schedule it at a certain time.
NUTRITION AND SLEEP ARE VERY CLOSELY INTERTWINED, PARTIALLY BECAUSE THEY’RE SIMILAR. THEY’RE BOTH FUNDAMENTAL PARTS OF HOW OUR PHYSIOLOGY WORKS AND THEY BOTH HAVE THEIR FINGERS IN PRETTY MUCH EVERY SYSTEM IN THE BODY.
DR MICHAEL GRANDNER
Maintain a healthy eating pattern
Nutrition and sleep are very closely intertwined, partially because they’re similar. They’re both fundamental parts of how our physiology works and they both have their fingers in pretty much every system in the body.
Every cell gets nutrition and every cell has these rhythms – and they interact with each other. For example, people who have a healthier diet tend to sleep better. People who eat too much late at night tend not to sleep as well. People who have more calorie-dense diets and people who stay up late will start craving extra calories at night. They will start gaining weight and having a dysregulated metabolism, because what they’re eating is changing what time it is because it’s disrupting the rhythm.
If your athletes maintain an overall healthy diet, where their body is working closer to the way it’s built, they’re going to sleep a little bit better.
Protection against “conditioned arousal”
One of the main pathways that leads from a little bit of stress to insomnia and other mental health issues is something called “conditioned arousal”.
What this means is that simply by losing sleep, you spend a lot of time in bed awake. If athletes have a hard time falling asleep and stay in bed – especially if it’s for more than half an hour at a time – without realising it, they’re training themselves to learn that the bed is both a place for sleep and a place for being awake.
The best thing you can do for an athlete can do is to help them break the cycle. If they’re going to be awake anyway, they should avoid sitting in bed awake. Even if they end up sleeping a little less tonight, they’re protecting themselves against developing insomnia later on.