Today I have another segment in the series of sports nutrition tips from my friend Brian St. Pierre, who wrote the Nutrition Guide for my new program Ultimate Hockey Transformation.

For a “nutrition” tip, this article has almost nothing to do with eating. With the alphabet soup of credentials Brian carries after his name, I wouldn’t describe him as a sports nutrition expert as much as an adaptation expert. The reality is that quality training can be significantly enhanced, or completely undermined by your “out of gym” habits. This includes what you are or are not eating, the accumulation of additional stress in your life, and the quantity and quality of your sleep.

Sleep is a topic I’ve done A LOT of research on (See: Sleep and Sports Performance Part 1 and Part 2); this is a great checklist to significantly improve your sleep, recovery, and as a result…your adaptation.

Enjoy.

Tip #9 – Create A Sleep Ritual

Let’s be honest, we all know that sleep is important for our health. However, many of us, if not most of us, tend to act as if that just doesn’t hold true for us. We seem to believe that we can get away with it.

While you may blame “school work” or simply being “busy”, research clearly and consistently shows that people miss out on sleep due to something called “voluntary bedtime delay.”

Basically, we stay up late because we want to, often watching Kardashian re-runs (Editor Note: This sounds like a personal revelation from Brian…), or mindlessly reading useless info on Facebook.  No matter the reason, it is unlikely to actually be more important than logging sufficient and quality shut-eye.

In the big picture, sleep is just as important as nutrition and exercise when it comes to improving how you look, feel, and perform. Before we get into strategies to optimize your sleep quality and quantity, here is a quick recap on why this is so important in the first place.

Why sleep rules

The average US teenager gets about 7 hours and 15 minutes of sleep per night. Unfortunately, teenagers require 8-10 hours of sleep per night.

And studies suggest that people who sleep fewer than 6 hours per night gain almost twice as much weight over a 6-year period as people who sleep 7 to 8 hours per night.

There are many other consequences to not getting enough sleep consistently, as it can:

  • limit your ability to learn, listen, concentrate and solve problems
  • contribute to acne formation
  • lead to aggressive or inappropriate behavior
  • cause excessive food intake, especially intake of highly processed foods
  • lower your immune system, making you more prone to get sick and miss training and playing time
  • lower your ability to recover from training and games
  • and more

Fortunately, research also shows that simply getting adequate sleep can quickly right the ship on these issues.  So how do we go about creating an environment conducive to optimal sleep?  Well here is a step-by-step guide on getting sufficient, and restorative, sleep.

Creating a sleep routine

The first step to getting more and better sleep is to simply create a nighttime routine.  A routine will signal to your body that you are preparing to go to sleep, and it will start to initiate the process automatically.  In addition will also help to prepare you for optimal sleeping conditions and duration, if done correctly.

1) Set a regular schedule

Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day and night.  While maybe aiming for all 7 is unlikely, try to be as consistent as possible.  This consistency will help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer, as your body will become accustomed to your schedule and will automatically start to prep you for sleeping and waking at those times.

Ruxin Sleeping

Routine.

2) Avoid excessive caffeine

Sleep actually has 5 stages.  Getting to deep sleep (stages 3,4 and 5) is imperative to having your sleep be genuinely restful and restorative.  Unfortunately, having caffeine within 7-9 hours of bedtime can prevent you from getting into those deep, restorative phases. You may “sleep” for 7 hours, but it is poor sleep, and recovery will be compromised.

3) Eat and drink appropriately

Having a large meal immediately before bed can disrupt your ability to fall and stay asleep.  Instead, aim to simply have a “normal” meal a few hours before bedtime, as described earlier in the previous tips.  A nice blend of protein, carbs and fats will help to keep you satisfied, won’t prevent sleep, and can possibly improve your ability to fall asleep as your brain converts carbs to serotonin.

In addition, try to limit your fluids 2-3 hours before bedtime.  Excess fluid intake prior to going to sleep can cause you to wake several times to urinate.  While total sleep time is important, it is even more beneficial if your sleep time is uninterrupted.

4) Create tomorrow’s to-do list

We have all lied awake in bed, staring at the ceiling, thinking about all the stuff we have to do the next day.  Take a few minutes before you start getting ready for bed and write a list of things you are thinking of: homework to do, papers to write, calls to make, project ideas, creative thoughts, etc.

5) Turn off the TV/Computer/Phone

Unplugging from the digital world can have a host of sleep benefits.  First off, you remove a stimulating device, which will help your brain and body to better prepare for sleep.  Secondly, the blue light from your electronics can actually prevent the production of melatonin, which will delay your ability to fall asleep, and could negatively impact your sleep quality. (Editor Note: If you absolutely HAVE to be on your computer before bed, download F.lux to block blue light at night)

6) Static stretch/Read/De-stress before bed

The role of static stretching in improving mobility/flexibility is certainly debatable.  However, it is fantastic at helping you to relax.  Just 5-15 minutes can be enough to help prepare you for a better night’s sleep.

Alternatively, reading a book for 20-30 minutes before bed can also help to slow you down.  However, you are probably better off with something other than engrossing fiction. I certainly know if I read some fiction before bed, the next thing I know its 2am and I am still reading!

You could also simply meditate for 20 minutes here.  Any type of de-stressing exercise would be appropriate and beneficial, though winding down with breathing techniques and progressive relaxation before bedtime is especially helpful.

7) Go to bed before midnight

According to sleep experts, every hour of sleep before midnight is worth 2 after.  This has to do with our natural circadian rhythms and wake/sleep cycle.  Our body is meant to go to sleep when it gets dark, and wake when it gets light.  That old saying about early to bed and early to rise still stands the test of time.

8) Sleep at least 8 hours

8 hours seems to be the minimum amount needed to keep teens fit and healthy.  If you know you have to wake at 6:15 to get ready for school, then you should be in bed by 9:30 and hopefully asleep by 10.  Getting in bed at 10:15 doesn’t count.  It’s the amount of time you sleep, not the amount of time you are in bed.

Bottom line: Create a sleep ritual that works for you, where you can consistently get at least 8 hours of quality sleep each night. Your performance, body, and health will be better for it.

-Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD, CSCS, CISSN, PN1

P.S. For more information on how to get a copy of Brian’s incredible hockey nutrition manual, click here: Ultimate Hockey Transformation

Brian is a Registered Dietitian and received his Bachelor’s in Human Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Maine, where he also received his Master’s in Food Science and Human Nutrition. He is a Certified Sports Nutritionist as well as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.

Brian worked for three years at Cressey Performance as the head Sports Nutritionist and as a Strength and Conditioning Coach, working with hundreds of athletes and recreational exercisers of all types. During this time, he also authored the High Performance Handbook Nutrition Guide, Show and Go Nutrition Guide, Ultimate Hockey Nutrition and dozens of articles for publication.

Nowadays, he works closely with Dr. John Berardi as a full-time coach and a nutrition educator at Precision Nutrition. In particular, working closely with our elite athletes and fitness professionals. As part of the Precision Nutrition mission, he helps to deliver life-changing, research-driven nutrition coaching for everyone.

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