On World Sleep Day (Friday 15thMarch), we spoke to EIS Physiologist and sleep expert Luke Gupta around some tips to getting a good night’s sleep and how the EIS is working with elite athletes to overcome some of the sleep challenges heading towards the Tokyo Games.
It is a common query in today’s busy world, how can I get the right amount of sleep and how can I improve my sleep quality? We asked Luke to shine some light on these questions and give his top tips.
“One of the most beneficial things you need to do to get a good night’s sleep is to go to bed when you feel sleepy” advised Luke. “The reason for that is a lot of people in general tend to stick to very strict bed time and wake up times in order to try and get a perceived need of sleep.
“For example, a lot of people would work out what time they need to wake up and then work backwards from there in order to get eight hours. This means people try and go to bed at that time irrespective of whether they feel sleepy or not. Sometimes that can lead to problems with falling asleep which can lead to anxiety around not getting enough. Just try to think of it in the same way you wouldn’t have your dinner unless you felt hungry, so it’s the same sort of principle, you need to listen to your body.
“Another piece of advice is to have some sort of wind down routine before you go to bed irrespective of what time of night it is. Having a wind down routine is a really beneficial thing to adopt in terms of falling asleep. When you wake up in the morning you don’t just roll out of bed into your office chair and start working, you usually have quite a gradual wake up process. Whereas when it comes to sleep at night a lot of people in today’s society tend to work quite late and have social activities in the evening and go to bed as soon as they get home. I would advise having a wind down routine of about 30-40 minutes and then attempting to sleep.”
Another hot topic in the area of sleep is technology, blue light and the use of screens before bed. Luke comments on how winding down the use of technology can help in the quest for better sleep.
“Within that winddown routine is a bit of a technology curfew. We don’t say avoid technology entirely as that’s the world we live in these days, but it’s just about being clever about how and when you use it. As a rule of thumb we say an hour to 30 minutes before you try and fall asleep you should limit your exposure to blue light which can simulate feeling of wakefulness.
“But most of the time, be careful what you read or watch before bed. Sometimes the content you engage in can be quite stimulating itself so watching an exciting movie before bed or seeing a tweet which elicits an emotional response can be detrimental, but this can be quite context specific.”
The conversation then moves on to the contested topic of caffeine. Luke advises, “A lot of people these days self-medicate with caffeine to try and maintain day time alertness as it can stimulate mental activity and increase physical and mental performance both in sport and day to day working life.
“However, what can be detrimental is the timing of it. We know levels of caffeine can stay in your system for 4-6 hours, so if you’re having a coffee late in the afternoon or evening it’ll still be in your system when you go to bed. So, we usually say after 4pm have decaf or avoid caffeine all together.”
Moving on to the world of elite athletes, Luke points out the challenges athletes have to overcome.
“From a mechanistic point of view, an average person’s sleep isn’t different to elite athletes’ but their sleep is challenged that much more. Some sports such as rowers or swimmers have to get up early in the morning or athletes who fly across the world on a regular basis and experience jet lag or have to try and sleep on a plane- those situations can lead to less sleep. In order for athletes to obtain enough sleep and deliver optimal performance and recovery, they have to be a bit more careful about how they manage their sleep and their routines.
“If an athlete is sleeping adequately a lot of the time they’ll experience less fatigue, increased motivation to train, be less susceptible to illness and have a lower risk of injury so they are likely to experience better performance indirectly. However, if an athlete experiences sleep disturbance the night before a competition it’s not correlated to optimal performance and won’t have that much of an immediate impact on performance.”
Finally, Luke highlights the work the EIS is doing liaising with sports and elite athletes to try and find solutions to address the unique sleep barriers athletes might be up against.
“We are working with sports at the moment mainly around the travel element and what travelling to somewhere in the far East like Tokyo does to sleep. Travelling there means you’ll be crossing many different time zones so how we manage that in the context of different sports is really important and contextual between sports.
“We’re putting together support packages where sports and individual athletes can work with the EIS physiology team and other disciplines at the EIS to give confidence to sports that they can cope with long haul travel and the jet lag associated with it.
“A priority of this work is to create a competitive advantage over the other nations by doing things slightly differently and managing the area of sleep and jet lag it in a way whereby athletes will be able to accelerate their adjustment to the time zone that much quicker, which will be really important when it comes to performance.”
To find out more about World Sleep Day, please click here.