"Getting enough sleep is crucial for athletic performance," says David Geier, MD, director of Sports Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina. Studies have found that good sleep can improve speed, accuracy, and reaction time in athletes. According to the National Sleep Foundation, most people need about seven to nine hours of sleep a night. If you're an athlete in training, that may not be enough. "Just as athletes need more calories than most people when they're in training, they need more sleep, too," says Geier. All the stress and grueling practices require more time to recover.
If you’re having trouble falling asleep, you’re in good company. An estimated 65% of Americans said they encounter sleep problems a few nights each week, according to a recent study by the National Sleep Foundation. Sleeping too little is also linked with an increased risk for obesity and depression.
But before you reach for a sleep aid from the nearest pharmacy, it’s worth re-examining your nighttime routine. Some of your favorite evening rituals could be responsible for that tossing and turning.
Going from Night Owl to Early Bird
Who says bedtime is just for kids? Take extra care to maintain your sleep schedule, especially on the weekends. The body responds to routine. If your bedtime is sporadic—11 p.m. some nights, 1 a.m. others—your mind won't be properly prepared to snooze on the weekdays.
Bringing Books to Bed
Reading before bed is a habit for many. Problem is, your body has likely adapted to that routine—it won't go to sleep until you've logged a couple chapters. Retreat to a comfy couch or window nook instead for your literary fix. The bed should be off limits for anything other than sleep.
Facebooking into the Wee Hours
The brightness of your computer screen stimulates the brain. Plus, it's difficult for your mind to stop fretting about your digital to-do list, even after you've logged off. Avoid late-night surfing and shut down your computer. Give yourself time to wind down without any electronics.
Skimping on a Good Bed
A good mattress will cost you anywhere from $500 to more than $3,000. Consider it money well spent. A decent mattress—do your homework!—will give you a more restful sleep. The same is true for quality bedding and pillows. Opt for a soft pillow if you're a back or stomach sleeper. Buy a firmer pillow if you sleep on your side.
Setting a Bright Alarm Clock
The looming glare of your alarm clock can be distracting when trying to sleep. The goal is to have as dark a room as possible. Block the bright numbers with a book or consider buying a small travel clock. Your cell phone alarm may also do the trick.
When you just can't fall asleep, it's useless to stay in bed. If you've been trying to fall asleep for more than 30 minutes, the National Sleep Foundation suggests doing something mundane, like balancing a checkbook, reading or watching TV. An activity that demands marginal brainpower will lull your mind. Before you know it, you'll be crawling back into bed genuinely tired.
Exercising Late at Night
Daytime workouts will keep you invigorated for hours. That's why you don't want to exercise within three hours of hitting the sack. Intense physical activity raises your body temperature and pumps your energy level—both interrupt a calm transition into sleep.
Sleep is often overlooked in ways to improve your performance. Look at these 7 areas and address any deficits or “bad habits” you have so you can get some much needed rest.