Dear Coach: How Can I Improve My Sleep?

Improving your sleep can yield huge gains for you, your health, and your training.

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Good quality sleep is key for athletes of all abilities and it is important to address, especially if you feel like you are not getting enough of it. Without good sleep, you will never recover well from your training and achieve your goals and potential. It is during sleep that all your muscles and “internal batteries” repair and replenish. If you shortchange your sleep, your body doesn’t have enough time to release testosterone, human growth hormone and a bunch of other compounds that help you rebuild, repair, and replenish. The flip-side is that if you do get good quality sleep it can bump your athletic performance up by greater amounts than you would get if you were to take EPO. And the good news is that sleep is legal!

How Can I Improve My Sleep?

If you’re struggling to get the sleep you need, here are a few tips that have helped me and my athletes enormously:

  • Finish your training away from bedtime. Late night training tends to keep your body revved up and can make it tough to shut down and sleep well.
  • Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum, especially close to bedtime. Yes, it can help you get to sleep, but then it can mess with blood sugar a few hours later and wake you up.
  • Factor in “vegging out” time. Often we keep busy up until bedtime and then rush to bed, not taking time to wind down. If your “vegging out” time includes activities such as watching TV, searching the Internet or simply reading, but you wait until bedtime to do this, it can detract from time spent sleeping. If, for example, your ideal lights out time is 10 p.m. then start your unwinding process at 9 p.m. or sooner, if possible. 
  • Dim the lights around your house (if possible) as the evening rolls in to help signal to your body that sleep is coming.
  • Do your processing of the day before you get in bed. Especially during times of stress, it is easy to drop into bed only to find your mind racing through the challenges you are facing rather than drifting off into a peaceful place. Go over your day and process things before you turn out the lights. 
  • Make sure your room is cool. Our bodies like to sleep in cooler rooms than we might have them if we are awake. If you can, keep the bedroom cooler.
  • You’ve probably heard this 1,000 times before—but stay away from the blue light of phones, tablets, and laptops for at least one hour prior to bedtime. 

Ironman legend and six-time Ironman world champ Mark Allen is a coach for

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