If I sleep better, will I ride better?
Short answer: YES
End of blog
Explained answer: Your body and brain use sleep as a time to repair, regrow, and regenerate any damage from stresses throughout the day. These stresses can be physical, mental, or emotional. Your body and brain both need good rest to allow normal recovery to happen.
Everyday you have physical, mental, and emotional challenges. It's completely normal, and it's how we grow. Your body and brain respond to stress, and from there you can build up to be stronger, quicker, smarter, and more resilient. If you don't have appropriate stresses, you have no reason to adapt and respond. You have no reason to learn a new skill, develop a new strength, or improve speed and efficiency.
We should have stresses with appropriate dosing. If you lifted too heavy of a weight, you may get injured. If you took on too complicated of a problem, you won't be able to solve it. If you receive continuous stresses to your emotions, you may have a breakdown. Having the right amount of challenge is a stimulus to move us forward. Not enough challenge, and we don't get any benefit.
With all the accumulating challenges and stresses of the day and of our lives, our body and brain need a way to recover and prepare for the next round. Sleep is when that happens. Sleep is when your tissues repair, your thoughts organize, and your emotions rebalance.
How do we get the best restorative sleep we can?
We can address this from a few different perspectives. First, we should have good sleep hygiene. That means a consistent habit that helps our body and brain wind down and prepare for sleep. Second, we can support our body so it can fully relax. Third, we can work to mitigate our stresses to manageable levels.
Sleep Hygiene: Having a routine for bedtime helps your body and brain recognize that the time for restoration is coming. It likes to be prepared, and using a consistent routine can set us up for a good night of rest. Some key points you may already be familiar with, but challenge yourself to be consistent and honest about your routine.
Prepare yourself by limiting screen time as night time approaches. Screens flash at an incredible rate that we don't perceive, but still stimulates our body and brain. Screens include computers, tablets, phones, and televisions. You are not likely to sleep well if you are on your phone in bed, or you turn off the tv just before you roll over. No screens for at least an hour before bedtime.
Also, limit your stimulants as the day wears on. Primarily this is a caffeine issue, but it could also be nicotine, medications, or sugary food and drinks. Anything that stimulates you to be more alert, is not going to just stop when you lay down. You need to taper off your stimulants as the day wears on, that way you can turn everything off when needed.
Your brain likes it dark at night, and your body likes it cool. Eliminate any light you can. Generally, the darker, the better. If you need a small light on for safety then that is ok, but if you're sleeping with the television on, you have too much light. Also, your body temperature cools during sleep, so help that happen by turning down the heat or turning up the air conditioning.
We already mentioned that your body and brain like routine, so keep a consistent bedtime and waking time. Unless you are actually sick and need extra rest, get up and get to bed at the same time everyday. Staying up late and sleeping in on the weekend can be confusing and disorienting to your schedule. Keep your sleep schedule consistent.
Most people require 7-8 hours per night. Even though you can function on less, you can't function your best on less. Often, we will see athletes struggling with their workout or their performance only to find out that they have been off their sleeping regimen. How do you think this affects how you work? How you react? How you keep your cool?
Now that you have a good sleep routine, how can you support your body?
Everybody has curves and contours. We aren't flat. That's why beds have softness to them. It's so our heavier areas get absorbed, while our lighter areas get supported.
However, not everyone has a common preference, and not every bed is made for every person. We all have different preferences, so we should all have a unique surface to sleep on. The person sleeping next to you does not likely enjoy the same exact things as you. They have a different body and different preferences. Why would you think that you both are best served by the same bed?
We can easily support our body's curves and contours using pillows and towels. We want to increase contact to all areas, so that force get dispersed. It's physics!
People already know about using a pillow. You'd be surprised at how many people use a pillow incorrectly. A pillow is supposed to support your head and neck, not be under you shoulder. Your neck also needs more support than you head, as your head is wider and harder. Your neck is narrower and softer. This is why some pillows are thicker under the neck. You can bunch up your pillow to support the neck, or you can place a folded towel under the pillow to make that area thicker. Also, your head gets hot at night, so a breathable pillow is best. With all the pillow innovations in the world, a down pillow still works great for many people. It's soft, cool, and can squish into whatever size you need.
Most people stop with the pillow, but doesn't your low back and waist have contours, and aren't they smaller than your hips? How about we support that area?
When laying on your back, your low back arches slightly off the bed. Gravity pulls on that arch all night long, so your muscles stay slightly active to keep it supported. How are they supposed to recover when they are active?
Placing a folded towel in the small of your back will support that unsupported arch, and that way the muscles can turn off with the arch collapsing. If you change to you side, same idea works. If you're a belly sleeper, this unsupported space isn't usually a problem. Thanks belly!
The last area that could use support, is under your legs. Our butts stick out behind us, and this area is thicker than our legs. The area under your leg that isn't supported, is being pulled on by gravity, and similar to the low back, those muscles stay tense to stop the area from collapsing. Many people find that placing a pillow under their knees help. I suggest you pull that pillow up to your butt cheeks to support the whole leg. If you're laying on your side, pull it up to your groin to support the whole thigh. If you're on your belly, you may need it just under the lower part of your leg to support the shins.
If you find a good supported position that your body and brain can turn off in, then you will get better sleep and you won't toss and turn as much. You change positions at night because you are uncomfortable. If you get more comfortable by providing more support, you will sleep deeper.
Here is a video to demonstrate the supported sleep positions described: https://youtu.be/1l_Z2ZgK22M
The last thing we want to do to help our sleep, is try to limit the stresses in our day. Not everything is under our control, but if you are contributing to your own stress, then start cleaning up that habit and knocking things off your to do list. When you have too much on your mind, it doesn't calm down and you can't sleep. Some people find that writing out a list of tasks or thoughts helps them to get it out of their head, and then they can relax. Also, feeling accomplished and satisfied with your day helps ease your mind allowing the cool down to occur. Be productive daily, limit the stress you allow yourself to take on, and feel good about all you completed.
Getting a good night of sleep allows you to process and recover from the day you had, and gets you ready for the day ahead. Whether you are challenging your body, brain, or emotions, good sleep helps optimize your ability to take on new challenges and grow from the ones you've had. #snowbeastperformance