Monday, 21 October 2013

Sleeping Beauty: How to Slumber Like a Pro

It’s 10pm. The dinner table is cleared, dishwasher filled, washing hung out and last e-mails of the day answered. 

But just as my better half settles down for a night cap and episode of [insert name of generic US drama here], an unstifleable sense of fatigue washes over me like a wave ruthlessly toppling a lopsided sandcastle.

Hugging a cup of tea, I’m persuaded to cower in the corner of the couch and join him, but even as the opening credits roll up, my eyelids become unbearably heavy, limbs loose and leaden.

My head tilts into the cushion and as I cocoon a little deeper into the blanket, I drift off into a broken slumber, peppered with chuckles and sporadic commentary from the far end of the sofa. “Did you see that?”

“Hmmmhmmm,” I respond as I drift into a happy cloud of cotton wool and candy floss.


I used to feel a little bit guilty about my dopey habit, but recent research shows just how important it is for us to clock up ample zeds – especially if we’re training hard. As the days get shorter and nights colder, it’s also in our nature to hit the sack earlier to safeguard physical and psychological health throughout the blustery winter months.

In the short term, sleep deprivation can impair our ability to function cognitively and concentrate properly - rendering us a bit dippy and the butt of the office joke - but in the longer term, a lack of sleep can lead to abnormal hormonal levels with more serious implications.

Beyond weight gain, bad skin and a substantial deterioration in athletic performance, too few hours of sleep can burden on our immune system and make us prone to infections and viruses. When we’re tired, our cells become damaged and training on empty can exacerbate that. A simple cold can quickly develop into an aggressive chest infection and before we know it we’re bed-bound, dosed up on antibiotics and battling a nasty case of bronchitis.

Sleeping gives our bodies the opportunity and time to repair, enabling us to become stronger, fitter and healthier and beat the bug before it beats us.


The American National Sleep Foundation has found that the average adult gets just six hours and 50 minutes of kip time per night, significantly less than the recommended seven and a half to eight and a half hours – and that’s a minimum for non-athletes.

If you’re training hard, cranking up the mileage and increasing the intensity of your workouts, you should be aiming for more than eight hours of high quality, uninterrupted sleep, which – granted – is often easier said than done.

Here, therefore, my guide getting the most out of your forty winks (or fifty…or sixty…seventy…):

1. Hormonal Havoc

As a woman, your hormones are likely to disrupt your sleep pattern at certain times of the month. To remedy this, adhere to a routine both in the evenings and the in the mornings. That should help your body become acclimatized to the ebb and flow of hormonal change and find rest when you need it most.

2. Active Adrenaline

Exercising late into the evening may make your physically tired, but the elevated levels of adrenaline in your brain could make it hard for you to tune out and find sleep. Schedule your workouts for the morning or early afternoon and stick to the number one rule of avoiding overtraining. Increase mileage and intensity gradually and never neglect rest days.

3. Killer Caffeine

A pre-gym espresso shot may give you an extra boost when you hit the treadmill, but unfortunately, the effects of the black broth often last a lot longer than desired. To prevent a restless body and mind after lights out, limit your intake of caffeinated drinks to two per day and preferably in the morning. Also beware of hidden sources of caffeine, like some chocolates, pain killers and vitamin supplements.

4. Troublesome Technology

Simple as it sounds, switching off is one of the best ways of switching off. Keep phones, laptops, blackberries and tablets out of the bedroom. As well as the artificial glow from the devices’ screens tricking your mind into thinking it’s still day time, you will be more tempted to check your e-mails one last time if your phone is sitting on your bedside table. Leave it in the living room, put it on silent or turn it off completely. And trust me, by the time you’re back on call the following morning, the world will still be turning.

5. Black It Out

Finally, I find that one of the worst sleep saboteurs is light. Invest in some good blinds or curtains to keep street light and traffic light outside – where they belong. Air your room before hitting the sack so that you don’t need to keep any windows ajar when you’re trying to capture zeds, and make sure that you have no electronic devices or alarm systems that flash in your line of vision.

And if all else fails, you can always resort to my tried-and-tested theory of US drama series. Not every insomniacs preferred remedy but I for one....

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