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Healthy Sleep

June 28 2011

Creating a Healthy Sleep Routine

By Debra Meszaros

Mirror, mirror on the wall; who's the fastest rider of them all? Could it be the rider that trains the hardest? The rider that gets the most sleep?
Science has been studying sleep and its influence on your health and performance for a very long time and no one will argue that sleep is vital and extremely important. Unfortunately, many people have difficulties sleeping; either falling asleep or waking up. There are various reasons for why. To the Motocross athlete attempting to get the most out of his or her body performance, sleep is a major component to success; and fact is, some riders have an easier time with their training programs then sleeping.

How important are your sleeping habits?

Your metabolism is altered when you are sleep deprived as the hormone that signals satiety, Leptin falls; additionally Ghrelin, which signals hunger, rises. Research shows sleep-deprived people tend to consume more starchy and sweet foods rather than vegetables and protein. Sugar cravings are thought to be brought on by the fact that your brain is fueled by glucose and when sleep-deprived, the brain searches for carbohydrates to keep going. The body is designed to run on protein and fats as primary fuel, not carbohydrates; although many people have retrained their bodies to run on carbohydrates, doing this long term has associated health and performance risks. Sleep deprivation impairs your immune system, lengthens your recovery time, and can even cause changes in your brain activity. The act of focusing can be a difficult task when one is sleep deprived. Some other consequences are high blood sugar, high blood pressure, depression and accelerated aging.

Programming rhythm:

The circadian system drives the biological activities of your body on a cellular level. Disruptions in programmed cycles affect your entire body. Sleep disruption upsets its delicate balance, so planning your sleep cycles is one of the best things you can do for your body. There are five stages of sleep which take about 90 minutes for your body to complete. During the five stages there are different functions taking place in each stage and there is a perfect time in the cycle to wake. Have you ever thought you had a good nights sleep and still woke up tired? Odds are you woke up while in stage three or four. So lets learn the proper rhythm to your sleep patterns. Stage one lasts about 5 minutes, this is a light sleep period and you are easily woken during this time. Stage two can last ten to twenty-five minutes and is considered still a light sleep stage. Stage three is a deep sleep stage; here if you are woken you will most likely be groggy and take awhile to actually wake. Stage four is a more intense deep sleep stage; here blood flow is directed away from the brain towards muscles, restoring physical energy; the recharging stage. Stage five is known as the REM sleep stage which occurs approximately 70-90 minutes after falling asleep. This is the dream stage. Stage five is the stage you want to program waking up from. So, the formular is to plan your sleep in multiples of 90 minutes. Example would be to plan to fall asleep around 10pm and wake at 5:30am.

Pre-conditions of sleep:

For some it's really not about "when to wake up" that's the issue, but actually falling asleep. There definately are some conditions that need to exist to get a restful sleep and to quicken the time to actually fall asleep. I call the actions one takes before turning in for the night as "pre-conditioning". "Pre-conditioning" consists of some simple steps and guidelines to follow like: one to two hours before bedtime concentrate on summing up your day, preparing for sleep, not activities like watching TV or using any electronic type devices as we want no brain stimulation at this time. What we actually want to do is to spend wind-down time with activities that soothe or relax you. There is a nice trick that works well for most active individuals like Motocross athletes; journaling. Get yourself a notebook that you will keep at bedside. Before retiring for the night, go through your day, recaping the events in your mind. Write down anything that you feel was unresolved, unfinished, or points of importance. Writing down tasks or ideas for the next day is also helpful in clearing the mind of anything you would normally lie awake thinking about. Once you have written them all down, close the notebook and say to yourself "I'll deal with all of that tomorrow". You've now pre-conditioned yourself for sleep.

Sleep Recovery & Quality Factors:

As you already know, recovery is a huge part of life as a Motocross athlete. You place extreme stress on your adrenals, so knowing when in the sleep cycle recharging and recovery happens would be of great interest and helpful. It is between the hours of 11pm and 1am that you should definately be sleeping. The quality of sleep is also of great importance and there are several factors that can increase the quality of your sleep.
- Light is your body clocks worse enemy, the room needs to be completely dark so your pineal gland produces melatonin and serotonin. Complete darkness means that even the faint glow of a clock can disturb this process. Close your door, no night-lights, and if waking to use the bathroom, either don't turn on the light or install "low blue" light bulbs. These bulbs emit an amber light that does not hinder melatonin production.
- The perfect room temperature is about 70 degrees F and not lower than 60 degrees F. These temperatures match the lower body temperatures the body reaches during the night.
- Avoid sugar based snacks or carbohydrate foods before bedtime as they may contribute to an increase of energy.
- Make sure any other conditions you find supportive to sleep exist.
- Build a routine to your sleep cycle especially the total time of sleep. Keeping each day the same helps the body build a routine; but listen to your body during times of illness or emotional stress and lengthen your sleep period if it is needed. Please remember that there is no such thing as "catching up on sleep". You cannot skimp on sleep all week and plan to "catch up" on the weekend. Consistency wins and routine is king.

Hopefully you now understand the process of sleep many of us take for granted, and realize the true benefits of quality, routine sleep.