How To Get Better Sleep

Sleep, how to get better sleep

Sleep affects everything you do and everything is affected positively by better sleep.” This quote is from sleep expert Dr. Kirk Parsley, who improved the sleep of some of the biggest badasses on the planet…Navy Seals. Good, sound, quality sleep literally improves everything: every marker on a blood panel, weight management, sport performance and recovery, productivity, and disease management.  

The list is long, yet the percentage of sleep deprived Americans continues to increase at an alarming rate. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports more than 30% of Americans are sleep deprived (less than 7 hours of sleep per night, not allowing proper recovery).  

Sleep deprivation increases your risk to cancer, Alzheimer’s, depression, anxiety, obesity, stroke, chronic pain, diabetes, heart attacks, poor blood sugar control to inflammation to food cravings, poor recovery, and many other medical disorders.

Due to its ability to cause high blood pressure and heart disease, sleep disorders add $16 billion to national health-care costs. This number doesn’t include accidents, or lost productivity at work, which in America alone costs us $150 billion each year!

So, before we get into why sleep is so important, the different stages, and some tips on how to improve it, we need to discuss why sleep deprivation is so harmful.

We’ve been lucky to have so many great athletes walk through the doors of our physical therapy clinic in Green Bay. We believe, “If you have a body, you are an athlete,” and that movement is medicine. Most of the people that have walked through the doors were dealing with chronic pain, while others simply wanted to improve their performance with our continuity plan.

Regardless, if we only looked at the physical body, we would be doing our clients that are trusting us with their health a huge disservice. That’s why we always incorporate four main pillars to their recovery.

When we’re asked what’s the best thing that can be done (outside of working with us to either get out of pain or increase performance) to aid in recovery, we know exactly what to discuss. These are topics we bring up with every single person that walks through our doors and they need to be understood and applied in order for you to fully recover. In this article, Part 1 of our 4 Part-Series, you’ll learn about the most important recovery tool.  

Why Sleep Deprivation Is So Harmful

1. Sleep deprivation doesn’t allow for proper repair and reorganization of your brain 

Whether you think you are or not, all day long your brain is taking in new skills, memories, conversations, people, and processes. This new information is unorganized and needs to be processed, not simply with the new pieces of the current waking day, but the connections they have to the days of your whole life. This new information needs to be organized and integrated with the earlier days of your life 

When this information cannot be organized, your mind has too much information, and you run out of room to store new memories. Once this occurs, everything run by your central nervous system is affected and your body starts to break down. This break down leads to: 

  1. Poor immune function 
  2. Increased cortisol and stress hormones 
  3. Imbalanced appetite and blood sugar regulating hormones 
  4. Increased internal inflammation

Think of this: after a poor nights sleep, were you able to complete a WOD, bike, swim, or run like you would after a good nights rest? How about go through a tough mental or physical day of work? Not likely! And the reasons above are why. Your body is a hot mess.  

Your body needs sleep and your brain needs to be shut off in order for these neural networks to properly repair.  

2. Sleep deprivation doesn’t allow your body to repair itself

When you sleep, growth hormone levels are increased and actually peak immediately following sleep onset.  The same goes for testosterone. Two huge hormones that aid in muscle repair and affect your neural growth. This is why, after a solid night of sleep you can have a hell of a good workout. On the other hand, if you don’t sleep well, this is why you may feel sluggish during a workout. 

In a study by Lamon et al., they observed the effect of acute sleep deprivation on skeletal muscle  protein synthesis, and the hormonal environment. The study is listed below, however, the findings should catch your attention.

  • ONE NIGHT of sleep deprivation (<7hrs) reduced protein synthesis by 17%, increased plasma cortisol by 21%, and reduced testosterone by 24%.  
  • In addition, muscle and collagen fibers laid down overnight were of a “haphazard” organization, suggesting that sleep deprivation causes faulty tissue repair in a manner that may be more prone to injury in the future.

 

Another area that repairs during sleep are the adrenal glands (which we discussed at length during this podcast episode with Megan Van Pay), the liver detoxes, and your immune system rebuilds. This is why, when you continually don’t sleep enough, you are at a higher risk of sickness. Your body is constantly in a catabolic state, breaking down from the inside out. 

How Does Sleep Impact Recovery?

A study by Schwartz et al., observed the effects of increased sleep on serving accuracy. Below are the findings:

  • Baseline sleep ~7.14hrs/night (This is considered “deprived”).
  • Sleep extension: the athletes were encouraged to increase their sleep to 8.85hrs/night (“sleep extension”).
  • With the increase in sleep, the researchers found that the tennis athletes accuracy of serves improved 6% (with an additional ~1.5hrs of sleep/day!!)

 

A study by Vitale et al., observed the effects of sleep on the performance of swimmers. The researchers asked the athletes to extend sleep to 10ths/day across 5-7 weeks. That is an increase of 2 hours/night from their normal baseline. The findings?

  • The swim athletes saw improvements in 15m sprint speed, faster time into the water off the block, and improved turn speed.

 

Need another one? This time, a study by Mah et al., observed the effects of sleep extension on athletic performance of collegiate basketball players. The athletes were asked to increase their sleep by 2hrs/night. Results?

  • The collegiate basketball athletes saw improvement in full court sprint time, reducing time by approximately 2 seconds as well as an increase in free throw accuracy by 9% and 3-point accuracy by 9.2%!
  • Athletes reported less daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and muscle soreness.
  • They saw an improvement in subjective physical and mental well-being.
  • They were less likely to miss practice or games due to feeling ill or injured.
  • AND, there was a reduction in subjective report of daytime sleepiness, fatigue, muscle soreness!

 

What does this all mean? Simply put, you need to prioritize your sleep! 

Sleep Deprivation Can Lead To Increased Injuries?

If you want the short answer, its yes. If you’ve read the above, all of those factors increase your risk of injury. But, like the above, let’s throw some research behind what we’re saying.

A study by of adolescent athletes, done by Milewski et al., found that individuals who slept less than 8 hours per night on average were 70% more likely to report an injury than those who slept more than 8 hours a night.  

This correlation places adequate sleep high on the list of ways to reduce risk of injury. Also, research has found that there is a 2 week delay from sleep deficiency to report of a new injury. 

  • “The best independent predictors of injury are hours of sleep per night and grade in schools.”
  • Athletes sleeping <8hours/night were 170% more likely to experience a musculoskeletal injury than those sleeping >8hours/night
  • Sleep deprivation was compounded an additional 140% for every increased grade in school

 

You need to be getting enough high quality sleep all season, not just the night before a big game or competition. 

Again, you need to prioritize your sleep. 

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

  • The below graphic, established by the National Sleep Foundation10, has good general guidelines.  
How much sleep is needed per night
  • In most adults, sleeping less than 7 hours per night is associated with all the risks discussed above, while sleeping more than 9 hours per night is also associated with shorter life and higher risk of diseases listed above. More is not better! 
  • Check out this other interesting picture showing the impact of a good and bad nights sleep.  

Lastly, while we didn’t discuss the sleep cycle or the importance of circadian rhythm, you can view the info graphic below to see the different sleep cycles or watch this great video on circadian rhythm.

Tips For Better Sleep

1. Six Helpful Tips

  1. Eat throughout the day to improve your sleep (check out the podcast we recorded with Megan Van Pay to learn more) 
  2. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even after a bad night’s sleep or on the weekend. 
  3. Keep your bedroom temperature cool; about 65 degrees Fahrenheit is optimal for cooling your body towards sleep. Wear socks if your feet are cold. 
  4. An hour before bedtime, dim the lights and turn off all screens. Blackout curtains are helpful. 
  5. If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something quiet and relaxing until the urge to sleep returns. Then go back to bed. 
  6. Avoid caffeine after 1 p.m. and never go to bed tipsy. Alcohol is a sedative and sedation is not sleep. It also blocks your REM dream sleep, an important part of the sleep cycle. 

2. Create A Nighttime Routine

We’re big on the process known as habit stacking. Essentially, you take one habit, and start to build upon it. This can work great for a quick night-time routine to help you get a better sleep.This should be something you’re able to perform on a consistent basis, regardless if you’re at home or in a hotel. It could be something as simple as hitting up your favorite, non-caffeinated or alcoholic, drink, light stretching, reading a book, or working on breathing technique. Just keep it simple: 

  1. No electronics
  2. Dim the lights 
  3. Cool the room 
  4. Maintain a quiet environment 

Resources

  1. Kim, T. W., Jeong, J.-H., & Hong, S.-C. (2015). The impact of sleep and circadian disturbance on hormones and metabolism. International Journal of Endocrinology, 2015, 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/591729

  2. Lamon, S., Morabito, A., Arentson-Lantz, E., Knowles, O., Vincent, G. E., Condo, D., Alexander, S., Garnham, A., Paddon-Jones, D., & Aisbett, B. (2020). The effect of acute sleep deprivation on skeletal muscle protein synthesis and the hormonal environment. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.03.09.984666

  3. Mah, C. D., Mah, K. E., Kezirian, E. J., & Dement, W. C. (2011). The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players. Sleep, 34(7), 943–950. https://doi.org/10.5665/sleep.1132

  4. Milewski, M. D., Skaggs, D. L., Bishop, G. A., Pace, J. L., Ibrahim, D. A., Wren, T. A. L., & Barzdukas, A. (2014). Chronic lack of sleep is associated with increased sports injuries in adolescent athletes. Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics, 34(2), 129–133. https://doi.org/10.1097/bpo.0000000000000151

  5. Schwartz, J., & Simon, R. D. (2015). Sleep extension improves serving accuracy: A study with College Varsity Tennis Players. Physiology & Behavior, 151, 541–544. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2015.08.035

  6. Suni , E. (2021, March 10). How much sleep do we really need? Sleep Foundation. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need.

  7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Brain basics: Understanding sleep. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Retrieved November 9, 2021, from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-Sleep.

  8. Vitale, K. C., Owens, R., Hopkins, S. R., & Malhotra, A. (2019). Sleep hygiene for optimizing recovery in athletes: Review and recommendations. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 40(08), 535–543. https://doi.org/10.1055/a-0905-3103

  9. Xie, L., Kang, H., Xu, Q., Chen, M. J., Liao, Y., Thiyagarajan, M., O’Donnell, J., Christensen, D. J., Nicholson, C., Iliff, J. J., Takano, T., Deane, R., & Nedergaard, M. (2013). Sleep drives metabolite clearance from the adult brain. Science, 342(6156), 373–377. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1241224 

Looking For More Help?

*This is helpful information, but it is general information. This is NOT medical advice. If you already have any injury, pain, tightness, etc., please seek help from a licensed and qualified healthcare provider like us, performance physical therapy in Green Bay. A complete solution for what you’re dealing with needs to be customized to all the different factors driving your pain, and those factors will be at least slightly different for each person. These strategies may help, but they’re not likely to be a complete solution for each individual reading this now or in the future.