Today is episode three of Siobhan Milner’s minis which are shorter solo episodes where I dive deeper into a particular topic. If you have a topic you want me to dig deeper into then please let me know over on Instagram, or shoot me an email.
In this episode, I am discussing the importance of sleep and how to optimise it. Sleep is an underappreciated and sometimes forgotten aspect of health that can make a bigger impact than you realize. I will be getting into the benefits, how much sleep is optimal for adults, and how that number might be different if you are an athlete. All of this is so imperative to know but I also will be giving you ways to optimize your sleep so that you are gaining all the benefits possible for your overall health and athletic performance.
Take a listen and let me know what you will be doing to make your rest time the most beneficial for you in the comments.
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The Importance of Sleep and How to Optimise It: Siobhan Milner’s Minis Transcript
Hey team. In today’s mini-episode, I’m gonna be talking primarily about sleep. Recently I’ve had to remind quite a few athletes about the importance of sleep, and I think sometimes we forget just how much it does for us. So I thought I’d start off by talking about some of the benefits. I’m also gonna talk about, um, how much sleep adults need in general, and how that might be different for athletes and how that also might be different for youth athletes in particular.
And I’ll also give a couple of tips for optimizing sleep as well. So I wanna start off by sharing this little anecdote that I believe I first heard from Dr. Peter Atia. Here’s a podcast that I love called The Drive with Peter Atia. He’s a medical doctor, but he interviews lots of experts as well. And one of the things that they talked about in an episode with Matthew Walker, who’s a really well-known sleep researcher, was how especially over the course of the history of it.
There have been times when our lives have been in danger a lot more frequently than they are now from things like predators. So being asleep is risky. Being unconscious and not able to fight off or detect predators nearby could have been really risky for us at certain. Parts of human history, but the fact that across the evolution of the human species, we haven’t evolved to not need sleep shows that there’s a really obvious risk-to-reward ratio that favors needing sleep, even if it means that we’re literally incapacitated.
Seven to nine hours of the night. So I just thought that was a really powerful way of kind of putting into perspective how important sleep is. But as I say, I’ll talk about some of the benefits as well. So one of the big things as an athlete or a mover is that sleep improves physical performance. It is crucial for muscle recovery.
Reaction time has been linked with injury prevention if you’re an athlete specifically, getting enough sleep has also been shown to improve sprint speed and shooting accuracy in collegiate basketball players. And there’s a ton of other research showing improved performance when adequate sleep is attained, especially when it comes to things like.
Pain or kind of injuries that just pop up seemingly randomly. One of the first things that I ask is whether or not people are sleeping enough. Stress is another big factor when it comes to injury and pain, but if you go back to that first episode that we had with Arthur about pain and pain science, You’ll hear him talk about this as well.
Sleep is super, super important to ensure that our bodies are functioning well. Sleep also improves cognitive function, so it improves memory learning. And if you’re in a sport with high cognitive demands, so for example, I work with curlers. So curlers have to make multiple decisions about the best shots for over two and a half hours of a game, and they’re sometimes playing three games in a day.
The high cognitive demands are present in their sport, and it’s really important that they’re cognitive. Sleep has also been shown to improve creativity, problem-solving skills, as well as the ability to think abstractly. Another big one that I kind of wish I had known when I was an adolescent as well is sleep improves mood.
Sleep is critical for regulating emotions and reducing the risk of mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. Of course, getting enough sleep doesn’t just. Solve those sorts of disorders or illnesses, but when we don’t have enough sleep, the amygdala in particular, which is a part of the brain that plays a key role in processing and regulating emotional responses, the amygdala kind of takes over.
We get a really heightened increase in amygdala activity when we’re sleep deprived. So this can result in an amplification of negative emotions and a decrease in the ability to regulate emotional response. Sleep deprivation can also impair the functioning of the prefrontal cortex, which is another part of the brain involved in emotional regulation.
The prefrontal cortex works to modulate the activity of the amygdala, so when it’s not functioning properly, it can also contribute to the overactivity of the amygdala. And I think it’s also, it’s important to kind of link. This is back to performance again because we know that we wanna be in the right mood state to perform well.
Sleep also boosts immune system function. Sleep is essential for the production of cytokines, which are proteins that regulate immune function and help the body fight infections. So this is another thing. If you’re getting sick all the time, it’s maybe worth considering. Are you sleeping enough? Of course, things like nutrition and whether or not your training load is well managed as well.
So I’m talking a lot about sleep deprivation, but how much sleep do we actually need? So the National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep per night for adults and more for children and teenagers. But this is just for the general population because there is evidence suggesting that athletes need more sleep than non-athletes.
And it makes sense because we need to be able to recover from our training. Studies show that sleep extension can improve athletics. And that athletes tend to have different sleep patterns and needs compared to non-athletes. Of course, everyone’s different, but in general, seven hours is the minimum recommendation for general adults, let alone athletes.
You’ll likely need more, especially if you want to function at your best and recover Well. Just to put this in perspective, there is a study done by the CDC in 2014 that. 35% of US adults were getting less than the minimum recommendation of seven hours of sleep a night. So there are two different kinds of sleep.
I know I’ve already talked about some of the benefits of sleep, but you might have heard of rapid eye movement, sleep, and non-rapid eye movement sleep. These, uh, phases of sleep happen at different times in the night, and you’ve probably heard of things like sleep cycles as well, your non-rapid eye. Sleep is really important for recovery in terms of physical recovery, stress recovery, mental recovery, and the immune system.
And it’s also important for memory and rapid eye movement. Sleep is really important for mood, memory, and learning. And again, I think we now wanna overlook that mental aspect for athletes. Or movers either, because even just things like memory and learning, especially in if you are in a skill-focused sport, if you wanna consolidate those skills, you need to make sure that you’re sleeping so that you can pick them up quickly as well.
So as I mentioned, not only do athletes often need more sleep, but especially youth athletes and teenagers, in general, need more sleep than adults. A big factor that’s often overlooked. That drives me a little bit up the wall. Teenagers tend to have a later chronotype. So what that means is they tend to naturally get sleepier later due to their biological clock.
Being different from an adult teenager’s tendencies towards a later chronotype is harsh because of changes in the timing of the release of the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. But because of these chronotype differences, because of this tendency for teenagers to naturally feel sleepier later, To sleep in more many teenagers experience sleep deprivation because they’ve gotta wake up early for school or training, and then they actually find it really hard to fall asleep early enough and to stay asleep earlier.
I know that this is a little bit of a systemic problem. We can’t necessarily just change the time that kids go to school, but it’s something to keep in mind. There are a ton of other benefits of sleep as well, just in general. General health is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, increased lifespan, and reduced inflammation, which is linked to a variety of health.
Problems include heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, and better glucose metabolism. So how do we optimize sleep? One of the big things is routine, so try to have the same routine every day. And one of the things that is often recommended in particular is getting up at the same time every single day.
So especially when I’ve got really heavy training periods or there’s a lot going on with work, I really try to get up at the same time on the weekends as well. Of course, you’ve gotta assess whether or not this makes sense for you because if you’re just not able to get enough sleep, Week, then I totally understand opting to sleep in a little bit on the weekends, but this is something that we call social jet lag when you then have to try and get up a few hours earlier again on a Monday, and then that can really mess up your biological clock, your circadian rhythm as well.
I know a lot of sleep researchers like Matthew Walker say that you cannot make up for sleep deprivation. So you can’t just make up for it with that huge sleep-in on the weekend. But I will say, just for myself, and again, anecdotes are not silence or evidence. I know that if I’ve had a really big week, sometimes I feel that I just need to let myself have that sleep-in.
So if I do that, then I will sometimes choose to do that on a Saturday morning and then make sure that I get up at the normal time again on a Sunday. Daylight exposure’s a really big one, and I think this has been made really popular by Andrew Huberman who has the Huberman podcast. So particularly getting, uh, exposure to daylight in the morning.
And I believe it’s often recommended that it is exposure to daylight before 10:00 AM but pretty much if you can go outside within 30 to 60 minutes of waking up, that’s gonna be huge. And it does make a difference if you’re indoors versus outdoors. So getting outdoors is important and it’s recommended that on sunny days you get five to 10 minutes of daylight exposure looking in the direction of the sun, but not at the sun, never.
The sun directly and on cloudy days, I believe they say up to 20 minutes. So even on cloudy days when it looks like there’s no sun, daylight is still there [00:09:00] and it’s still gonna affect your circadian rhythm. Another thing that happens when we go to sleep is our core temperature drops. So sleeping in a cool room can be really helpful.
For that because it’s already in the temperature direction that your body wants to shift to, to go to sleep. So when we say a cool room, it’s generally considered to be between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit, or 15 and a half to 19 and a half degrees Celsius. And this is actually why as well. Hot baths and hot showers can be helpful before bed, which seems a little bit counterintuitive, but it’s because when you have a hot bath or a hot shower, you vasodilate, which allows for better blood flow and increase heat loss from the body.
So we give off heat more easily. Another big one is not having caffeine after 2:00 PM I think what a lot of people don’t realize is the half-life of capping can be around five hours for most adults. So what that means is whatever you, whatever amount of caffeine you have in your cup of coffee or your cup of tea, half of that caffeine is still gonna be in your body five hours later.
So that’s why it could be such an issue if we are having coffee or tea later in the day. It can really interfere with sleep quality and the ability to fall asleep. Another big one that can interfere with sleep is alcohol, and a lot of people have this misconception about a nightcap or alcohol helping you fall asleep.
The trouble is alcohol is a sedative, and sedation is not the same as sleep. So even though you might feel drowsy, kind of tired because it’s sedation, you don’t actually go through the natural various stages of sleep that are necessary. Restoration and recovery. So one of the main things that alcohol disrupts is the amount of time spent in rapid eye movement sleep, which as I said, is that stage of sleep that’s associated with memory consolidation and learning.
And alcohol also interferes with something called adenosine, which is a natural chemical in the body that promotes sleep. And again, it can disrupt the sleep-wake cycle and interfere with our body’s natural ability to regulate sleep. So really taking care of alcohol there. Also, just as a general side, So much research coming out now about how much more devastating alcohol is for health than we previously thought, and we already knew that it wasn’t particularly good for us.
And this is not a judgment statement, it’s just considering that it can really affect you, probably more negatively than you realize. So another big one that’s recommended is dimming lights and avoiding screens prior to sleep. So part of this is making sure that, again, it’s, it’s kind of like the reverse of daylight, daylight exposure.
So we’re making sure that we’re getting the brain and body ready for sleep by making things darker. But another thing that’s been suggested, cuz it used to be suggested that this was to do with blue light and I believe some. Still believe, that the blue light in particular is what affects our ability to fall asleep.
But I know there are some other researchers saying that it may actually have more to do with the fact that, especially when it comes to things like phone screens and laptop screens, it’s more the fact that we’re just. Stimulating brain activity by doing things like checking work emails, looking at notifications, just things that get the mental cogs turning as well.
And the last thing to think about when it comes to optimizing sleep is your sleep window. So what that means is we’ve said the minimum recommendation is seven hours a night. But if you get into bed at 11:00 PM and your alarm goes off at 6:00 AM you have to remember that you’re not gonna be asleep that entire time that you’re in bed, even if you don’t realize it.
So even if you’re someone that falls asleep really fast, there’s gonna be times during the night that you wake up or you come in and out of certain depths of sleep and you won’t even realize it. So you wanna make sure that that sleep window, that time that you actually have in bed, is longer. The time that you actually want to be able to sleep.
So I hope this clarifies a little bit about the importance of sleep, why it’s important for athletes, and why it’s important for the general population. I will say there’s been a lot of discussion about the link between, um, sleep and diseases like Alzheimer’s, but also type two diabetes. So just from a general health perspective, again, sleep is one of those things that you really wanna try and get in.
Kind of as your foundation of health and fitness, rather than reaching for things like supplements or quick fixes. First, we wanna get a strong foundation for the house, and one of those big things is sleep. If you’ve got any questions, don’t hesitate to send me an email or leave me a little comment on social media and have a great week.