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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“Kevin Neeld is one of the top 5-6 strength and conditioning coaches in the ice hockey world.”
– Mike Boyle, Head S&C Coach, US Women’s Olympic Team

“…if you want to be the best, Kevin is the one you have to train with”
– Brijesh Patel, Head S&C Coach, Quinnipiac University

Part 2 of the Sleep and Sports Performance series will dive into specific recommendations to improve your sleep quality, including a cool trick to make your brain think you’re tired, and a few effective supplements you’ve never heard of. If you missed Part 1, you can check it out here: Sleep and Sports Performance: Part 1

The Foundation of Quality Sleep

Improving your sleep quality is a lot like improving your diet. The best strategy is master the basics, and then use more advanced strategies to troubleshoot individual deficiencies. With this in mind, these are the biggest “bang for your buck” strategies to immediately improve your sleep:

  • Make sure your room is completely black (e.g. no internal or external light at all) and cool
  • Stop using electronics, including TVs, computers, and cell phones ~30-60 minutes before bedtime
  • Put your phone on silent and turn it face down on your nightstand so it doesn’t make sound, vibrate or light up while you’re sleeping. “Do Not Disturb” mode will keep the phone quiet, but will still allow your alarm to go off.
  • Attempt to go to sleep and wake up within an hour of the same time each night.

Of these, the minimal electronic use is likely the recommendation that will be met with the most resistance. Your body naturally produces melatonin, a hormone that most people are familiar with as a sleep supplement, in anticipation of darkness. When you expose your eyes to light, particularly blue light from electronics, it inhibits melatonin release and essentially signals to your body that you need to stay awake.

            “I SnapChat because I can’t sleep. And I can’t sleep because I SnapChat.”

Further, electronics that require interaction (e.g. everything except TV) lead to difficulties falling asleep and less refreshing sleep (Gradisar, Wolfson, Harvey, Hale, Rosenberg, & Czeisller, 2013).

Just as you can tell whether the lights in a room are on or off even with your eyes closed, your eyes perceive light even while you sleep. Even if your phone is on silent, if it lights up on your bedstand, it will still have a stimulatory effect and pull you out of deeper levels of sleep. Naturally, the same is true of lights coming through the window or from alarm clocks. Complete darkness is essential for optimal sleep.

Hacking Your Sleep

If you follow the above recommendations and are still struggling to get restful sleep, these are effective strategies worth the time and financial investment to try.

1) Take a nap

A complete sleep cycle lasts ~90 minutes. However, Thun et al. (2015) point out that 30-minute naps are effective at restoring performance to a higher level compared to a no-nap condition. From a practical standpoint, this means that naps should be ~20-30 minutes or ~90 minutes. Waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle is why many people feel groggy when they wake up; avoid the 45-75 minutes time zones.

2) Take a quick warm shower before bed

It is easier to fall asleep when your core temperature is low (Waterhouse, Fukuda, & Morita, 2012). Intuitively, you might think jumping in a cold tub would help facilitate this process. However, Rattray et al. (2015) commented that cold-water immersion had no effect on sleep measures, but increasing skin temperature did. This may be a combination of heat having a soothing/calming effect on the body and the fact that after heat, the body’s temperature needs to drop to restore homeostasis. This falls into the “try both and see what you like better” category.

3) Change your diet

According to Halson (2014), eating a meal with carbohydrates ~1-4 hours before bedtime can decrease the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, increase REM sleep, and decrease light sleep, and low protein diets impair Deep Sleep. There are a lot of considerations in optimizing your diet, but for sleep purposes it appears that making sure you get sufficient quality food throughout the day and eating a small carbohydrate-based meal for dinner (or post-game) will help optimize your sleep quality. This isn’t a free pass to punish a box of cereal right before you brush your teeth; food quality still matters. A “carbohydrate-based meal” may just mean a small chicken breast along with a sweet potato, and large serving of vegetables.

4) Fall asleep faster with brain “entrainment”

Sleep zones, and all states of being, are associated with different frequencies of brain wave activity. For example, Deep Sleep is characterized by “delta frequencies” at 0.5-2.0 Hz. Brain activity within certain bands can be stimulated through auditory stimulation. This simply involves playing two sounds at different frequencies in each headphone, such that the difference in their frequencies falls within the range of the target brain activity. In other words, if we wanted to stimulate 2.0 Hz activity, we could put a 6.0 Hz tune in one ear, and a 4.0 Hz tune in the other. 6.0-4.0= 2.0.

NeuroAthlete

Assuming you, like me, have no idea how to do this on your own, you can download an app called “Neuroathlete”, which allows you to select the desired outcome (in this case “Rest and Recover” and it will play the appropriate tunes for you. It also lets you superimpose “sounds of nature” tunes on top of the humming of the different frequencies. Abeln, Kleinert, STruder, & Schneider showed that this technology had a positive impact on the sleep patterns of youth soccer players (2014), and given the cost, it’s definitely worth trying. I’ve used this personally and had several athletes use it as well.

5) Supplement

Most sleep-related supplements receive mixed reviews. Tryptophan in doses as low as 1g has been shown to improve sleep quality (Halson, 2014). Magnesium supplementation, which has a relaxing effect on the nervous system, improves sleep time and sleep efficiency (the amount of time spent asleep while in bed; Abbasi et al., 2012). Valerian is an herb that has a similar calming effect on the nervous system, and results in improved self-reported sleep quality (Halson, 2014). Lastly, L-theanine is an amino acid that may help promote relaxation.

Some of these ingredients can be found combined together. For example, I really liked Poliquin’s UberMag Plus Px, which has magnesium and tryptophan.

UberMag Plus Px

The end of sleep trouble

6) Sleep More

Lastly, you may just need to sleep more. Two studies have shown that lengthening sleep duration have had significantly positive outcomes on speed and skill-related performances in basketball players (Mah, Mah, Kezirian, & Dement, 2012) and swimmers (Mah, 2008).

Wrap Up

Sleep can have a profound impact on your physical and mental performance. Use the sleep “hacks” in this article to help optimize your sleep, and troubleshoot issues as they arise.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld
HockeyTransformation.com
OptimizingMovement.com
UltimateHockeyTraining.com

References:

Abbasi, B., Kimiagar, M., Sadeaghniiat, K., Shirazi, M., Hedayati, M, & Rashidkhani, B. (2012). The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, 17(12), 1161-1169.

Abeln, V., Kleinert, J., Struder, H., & Schneider, S. (2014). Brainwave entrainment for better sleep and post-sleep state of young elite soccer players – A pilot study. European Journal of Sport Science, 14(5), 393-402.

Czeisler, C. (2011). Impact of Sleepiness and Sleep Deficiency on Public Health – Utility of Biomarkers. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 7(5), S6-S8.

Gradisar, M., Wolfson, A., Harvey, A., Hale, L, Rosenberg, R. Czeisler, C. (2013). The Sleep and Technology Use of Americans: Findings from the National Sleep Foundation’s 2011 Sleep in America Poll. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 9(12), 1291-1299.

Halson, S. (2014). Sleep in Elite Athletes and Nutritional Interventions to Enhance Sleep. Sports Medicine, 44, S13-S23.

Mah, C., Mah, K., Kezirian, E., & Dement, W. (2011). The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players. Sleep, 34(7), 943-950.

Mah, C. (2008). Extended sleep and the effects on mood and athletic performance in collegiate swimmers. Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, June 9; Baltimore, MD.

Rattray, B., Argus, C, Martin, K., Northey, J., & Driller, M. (2015). Is it time to turn our attention toward central mechanisms for post-exertional recovery strategies and performance? Frontiers in Physiology, 6(79), 1-14.

Reyner, L, & Horne, J. (2013). Sleep restriction and serving accuracy in performance tennis players, and effects of caffeine. Physiology & Behavior, 120, 93-96.

Thun, E., Bjorvatn, B., Flo, E., Harris, A., & Pallesen, S. (2015). Sleep, circadian rhythms, and athletic performance. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 23, 1-9.

Waterhouse, J., Fukuda, Y., & Morita, T. (2012). Daily rhythms of the sleep-wake cycle. Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 31, 5-18.

Wright, Jr., K., Drake, A., Frey, D., Fleshner, M., Desouza, C., Gronfier, C., Czeisler, C. (2015). Influence of sleep deprivation and circadian misalignment on cortisol inflammatory markers, and cytokine balance. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 47, 24-34.

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Year-round age-specific hockey training programs complete with a comprehensive instructional video database!

Ultimate Hockey Transformation Pro Package-small

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“Kevin Neeld is one of the top 5-6 strength and conditioning coaches in the ice hockey world.”
– Mike Boyle, Head S&C Coach, US Women’s Olympic Team

“…if you want to be the best, Kevin is the one you have to train with”
– Brijesh Patel, Head S&C Coach, Quinnipiac University

As you’ve been hearing a lot recently, this is an exceptionally busy time of year for us at Endeavor. Over the last week, we (finally!) moved into our new facility and are still piecing together everything. I’ve been posting pictures of the process on twitter, so if you’re interested in following along give me a follow here: Follow Kevin. This is a huge move for us and I’m very excited about our new facility. Among other benefits, we’re going to have a separate room for manual therapy, and have plans to add an infrared sauna and cold tub in the near future. We also have plans to expand our staff to include a few professionals with unique skill sets, and have intentions of integrating different technologies to provide a more thorough and comprehensive service to our athletes. The vision I’ve had of privatizing a professional sports setting is starting to take shape. It’s an exciting time.

Still a work in progress, but our new facility is coming along!

Last week I wrote an article on heart rate variability and what I think may be the most user-friendly and easily applicable tool for athletes and fitness enthusiasts to track their HRV. If you missed it, you can check it out here: BioforceHRV

An underlying theme of that article was the importance of finding balance between stress and recovery. Another more subtle message lies in the fact that technology is now advancing to a point to allow end-users (you and I) to monitor fairly complex processes. Very much related to these two points, I wanted to tell you a little bit about a new tool that I’ve been using for the last few weeks called the Zeo Sleep Manager.

Zeo Sleep Manager

As you likely know, sleep is incredibly important. It provides time for recovery and regeneration, and is associated with, among other things, a cascade of related hormonal and physiological changes. As with all things training related, there is a quantity and quality component. Most athletes need a minimum of 8-9 hours of sleep per night. Younger athletes may need more. In general, as folks age they don’t need as much time to sleep. Although, as the amount of stress in our lives (incidental or planned) increases, we need more rest to recovery from it, so our sleep needs are likely to fluctuate throughout the year. In most situations, it’s best to err on the side of getting too much sleep.

Another important concept, aside from simply getting sufficient sleep, is to go to bed and wake up within an hour of the same time every night (including weekends). This is an area where most athletes miss the target horribly, and consistently. While I think the average athlete is familiar with the idea of a circadian rhythm, I don’t think most appreciate what physiological processes are governing and influenced by this rhythm, and therefore how important it is to at least attempt to regulate it. As I alluded to last week, EVERYTHING is a stress to your body. In other words, everything that you do or don’t do (any change to homeostasis) causes some stimulus for adaptation, positive or negative. In this case, having varying sleep patterns, can impair recovery, tip your hormonal balance unfavorably, and create an undesirable stress to your immune system. Not exactly the ideal environment for peak performance!

As I mentioned above, it’s not just sleep QUANTITY that matters; sleep QUALITY is equally as important. While the amount of time we sleep is easily measured, sleep quality poses more of a challenge. At least it used to. A couple weeks ago I picked up a Zeo Sleep Manager and have been using it nightly ever since. If you’ve never heard of “Zeo”, it’s essentially a headband that monitors brain activity to assess what stage of the sleep cycle you’re in. The headband transmits the data via a bluetooth connection to your phone (they offer other units that aren’t phone-based too if you don’t have a “smart” phone). When you wake up in the morning, you can instantly see a read-out with:

  1. Total Sleep
  2. Time in REM Sleep
  3. Time in Deep Sleep
  4. Time in Light Sleep
  5. Times Woken
  6. Amount of Time Woken

Zeo then uses this information to calculate a score, and tracks all of this for you over time. This, in itself, was worth the price of admission (not to mention…chicks dig guys that sleep in headbands). The neat thing is that the Zeo app includes a boatload of tips on how to improve all of the above components. Depending on what you may be lacking, they have specific recommendations on different strategies you can try to make your sleep more optimal. For example, if you don’t get enough “Deep Sleep”, Zeo provides 12 different areas to help you improve that, one of which is “Shielding Sounds”. When you click on that option, it provides you with four easily implementable strategies to cut down on extraneous noises, explains why this is important, and then follows up with four additional ideas in case the first four didn’t take.

Zeo Sleep Manager Analytics
The REALLY cool thing, is that Zeo also comes with a website interface that allows you to journal your activities (in as much detail as you want) and track how they affect your sleep quality. This information is incredibly valuable because it allows athletes to monitor how their behaviors influence their recovery. As a few examples:

  1. How does practice/game time affect sleep?
  2. How does your post practice/game meal affect sleep?
  3. How do the quantities and times you consume stimulants or alcohol affect sleep?

In many cases, subtle behavior changes can have a significant impact on sleep quality, but most people aren’t aware of the connections.

And finally, Zeo’s site also includes a FREE 7-stage coaching program, which is a cool way to help jumpstart improving your sleep quality.

Zeo Coaching Program

As you can tell, I’m pretty excited about this. I’m constantly searching for ways to help improve the training adaptation process and for ways to help athletes get an edge (and people enjoy their lives more in general), and I think this is a huge one. Athletes spend so much time, money, and energy on the stressors (practice, games, training, supplements, etc.) and essentially ignore the factors that facilitate a positive adaptation response from these stressors. Sleep is one of the biggest ones, and is a great place to start!

Click here for more information on Zeo: Zeo Sleep Manager

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

P.S. Two of the best and most cost-effective tools to monitor your body’s capacity to handle stress and recover: BioforceHRVZeo Sleep Manager

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