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Habits of Highly Effective Athletes: Sleeping for Recovery and Better Workouts

February 26, 2018

Habits of Highly Effective Athletes: Sleeping for Recovery and Better Workouts

Ready for the third installment of Habits for Highly Effective Athletes? (If you didn’t read the first about Staying In Your Lane, head back to that post to catch up.) Last week, we talked about the biggest non-workout habit to work on during the day: your nutrition. This week, we’re turning to the other huge chunk of your day you spend focusing on recovery and muscle growth and adaptation. That’s right, this is all about snoozing.

What do the elite athletes I’ve traveled and trained with have in common? The successful ones are KILLER at sleeping. Sounds weird, but seriously, the ones who perform the best are the ones who consistently get a ton of high-quality sleep, and really prioritize it. Jeremy Powers, for example, goes so far as to fly to Europe a full day early and take a daytime flight versus an overnight in order to not miss a quality night’s sleep. I thought it sounded insane when he explained it to me the first time, but it really does work for him, and sleeping enough is a huge priority for him.

On the flip side, I’ve seen a lot of young athletes stay up stupid late partying or just screwing around on their phones rather than getting to bed, and by the end of a race block or training camp, they’re almost always the ones with the worst results, lingering illnesses, or bad attitudes.

So, what’s a snoozy athlete to do?

Sleeping more, and sleeping well, can improve your overall health, allow you to finally drop those last few pounds, regulate your hormones, improve your mood, and—most important for athletes—help you actually recover so you’re ready to train or race.

Bad Sleep Habits:

  • Eating or drinking alcohol close to bed
  • Bringing the cell phone to bed
  • Bringing work to bed—physically or emotionally
  • Sleeping in a warm, light, loud bedroom
  • Sleeping late on weekends, going to bed late on weeknights (anytime you try to ‘make up sleep,’ or regularly sleep 4 hours on weeknights and 10 on weekends)
  • Going to bed at wildly different times every night
  • Not having any kind of bedtime ritual / having trouble falling asleep

Best Sleep Habits:

  • Create a consistent sleep schedule and try to stick to it as best you can.
  • Cutting off eating/drinking 2 hours before bed.
  • Shut the box on work. Before you head to the bedroom for the night, try to ‘close the box’ on work for the day and switch gears. Listening to music, enjoying a TV show, or reading a couple chapters of a relaxing book can help get you out of the workday headspace. (This is where a sleep ritual is super helpful: done with work for the day, have a cup of ginger or chamomile tea, snuggle with kids/pets/partner, et cetera.)
  • Keep the bedroom for sleeping only, if possible. No phones in bed!
  • Make your bedroom as cool as possible, ideally around 66 to 69 degrees Fahrenheit. Cool air makes for happier sleep!
  • Keep your phone in another room, preferably in Airplane mode or at least in Do Not Disturb.
  • Make sure you can sleep in total darkness, either with blackout blinds or a sleep mask
  • If you’re sound-sensitive, do you have earplugs or a white noise machine?
  • Have a good way to wake up. Sometimes, jolting awake to a loud bleep can throw off your entire day. Swap that out for either a light alarm that brightens the room gradually, or a song or tone that gradually gets louder and louder.
  • Skip the snooze button in the morning. 9 minutes is enough to get back into a deep sleep, and being woken out of it will make you feel groggier than ever.
  • Start the morning with your 5 minutes of yoga, rather than reaching for your phone right away. (5 minutes won’t change anything, we promise.)
Want more info? Check out our podcast Peak Performance with Steve Magness & Brad Stulberg, and our How to Sleep podcast with Dr. Amy Bender. And, if you subscribe to our free 7-day Healthy Habit email series, I tackle common sleep issues (ahem, snoring partners, one of you overheating while the other freezes, weird work schedules, etc.). You can sign up here.

Let me know in the comments how you’ve changed your sleep routines over the years, what’s working and what’s not!


About the Habits for Highly Effective Athletes Series: Traveling with a lot of athletes at all different levels in the last decade, and being one in a lot of different scenarios and styles of racing, interviewing hundreds of pro racers and coaches, living with pros (including my husband, a pro MTBer and a great coach!), getting my coaching and nutrition certifications and generally studying the ways that athletes thrive—and don’t thrive—has given me a lot of food for thought this year. So, I decided I wanted to work on a series of articles on here highlighting some of the commonalities that I’ve noticed that the highest achievers in sport are consistently doing, whether it’s a race week, a training camp or just day-to-day life.

On the note of habits like sleep… want a free 7-day guide to healthy habit change? Sign up here!

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