Restful sleep is essential for athletes to perform at optimal levels. Yet getting a proper night’s sleep often feels unattainable, as we frequently wake up at night. Take heed: This is normal behavior. Most of us tend to wake up roughly 2–3 times per night.
However, for those who always have trouble getting back to sleep, this can feel concerning. This form of sleeplessness typically stems from some form of stress. For athletes, “It could be about an upcoming contest or anything their mind gets active about,” says James I. Millhouse, PhD, licensed psychologist and author of “The Parents Manual of Sport Psychology.”
If you experience disturbed sleeping patterns on a regular basis, try a few of these tips to help you get back into a peaceful slumber:
1. CHOOSE AN APPROPRIATE PRE-SLEEP ACTIVITY
“Find something that puts you to sleep that is not going to stimulate you if you wake in the middle of the night,” says Nilong Vyas, MD, the founder and owner of Sleepless in NOLA in New Orleans, Louisiana. For example, she recommends falling asleep reading a book. If you wake up in the middle of the night, start reading the same book. “It will help you transition back to sleep without being awake for an inordinate amount of time,” she says. In addition, Vyas says to set a timer to stop reading and try to go to sleep again.
2. OPEN A WINDOW
According to Robert Oexman, DC, director of the Sleep to Live Institute, you should open your window a crack to cool your bedroom down to an optimal 65–68°F. “Those in Scandinavian countries traditionally leave windows open at night and sleep great,” he says.
3. GRAB WARM MILK OR A SNACK
Low blood sugar can cause you to wake up at night. For athletes who operate at a calorie deficit, low blood sugar can become a health issue. According to Pete Bils, Sleep Number’s vice president of sleep science and research, when your blood sugar excessively drops, you should try eating a 250-calorie snack that consists of 75% carbohydrates and 25% protein.
“Warm milk’s calming quality is not just an old wives’ tale,” says Shawn M. Talbott, PhD, a nutritional biochemist and author. “Milk has peptides [small protein chains] that, when digested, have direct relaxation effects in the brain.” Drinking a glass of milk or eating a cup of no-sugar added yogurt when you wake up can help the mind relax from whatever stressor woke you up.
4. DO SOME MEDITATION
Jonathan Horowitz, a somnology researcher for Maple Holistics,recommends getting comfortable and focusing on your breathing. Stay mindful of the way your body is feeling and pay attention to it as it continues to unwind. Notice the various organs, muscles and their functions as you lay there. Then, from the tips of your toes to the crown of your head, feel your body as it relaxes and calms itself.
“If it is one of those nights, when your thoughts are zooming way too fast and not letting you find focus, [this] might not be the technique for that particular time,” he says. However, slowing things down and taking your mind off of what woke you could do the trick.
READ MORE > CAN WORRYING ACTUALLY HELP YOU SLEEP BETTER?
5. FIGURE OUT WHAT’S WRONG
Since stress is usually the culprit for sleep disruption, try to find a way to manage it. Whether you write down a to-do list and get everything down on paper or set aside an hour in the afternoon to think about everything. Above all, if you determine the cause of the constant wake ups and are able to prevent them, “there would be no need for ‘tips’ to help fall back asleep,” says Carolyn Schur, sleep educator and therapist.
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