Without knowledge and structure underpinning any sleep-wake routine (SWR), our ability to adapt and maximize recovery is fast becoming a more serious problem than past generations ever faced.

Sleep aware

Athletes have to cope with more than the expanding demands of modern sport. Like the rest of us, they face significant changes in personal, social and family lifestyles, increasing levels of stress, anxiety or sleep anxiety and counter recovery habits.

Not surprisingly, over the last two decades we have seen a rapid increase in athletes who observe higher levels of Esomnia, (Electronic Insomnia), athletes classified as gamers, social networkers and virtual communicators, creating routines that can’t ‘switch off.’

Instead, we are seeing a rise in the use of stimulants to push on through, much higher levels of caffeine hanging around in our bodies for longer, energy drinks and supplements and over-the-counter natural boosters. Over stimulating simply leads to no or poor sleep and then the big step into prescribed drugs and vast array of sleeping tablets.

Serious solutions

Some athletes may well adopt a more positive approach, applying the latest relaxation and meditation techniques, use sensory as well as behavioral and cognitive interventions in the hope of improving sleep quality. However, when used in isolation or at random, they rarely provide any consistent and sustainable recovery benefits.

My advice is that it’s far from all doom and gloom when it comes to sleep. The first step with any athlete, at any level in any sport, is: Get more sleep aware with the basic principles and be far more aware of their personal sleep characteristics.

These seven, practical and achievable routine changes (gains) will aggregate to unlock a greater positive effect.

KSRIs: Key sleep recovery indicators

  • Ensure you have a good understanding of the circadian rhythm, a 24-hour cycle that regulates our biological and physiological functions.

  • Identify your personal Chronotype to prevent adopting routines that are counterproductive to your natural sleep (recovery) characteristics.

  • Think of sleep as 90 minute cycles—not hours—putting you in more control of how many cycles you actually need, why and when.

  • Adopt three practical and achievable pre-sleep techniques that can be applied in the final ninety minutes into a targeted sleep time and the first ninety minutes post sleep on and after wake, promoting a naturally stimulated wake.

  • Plan a recovery break every 90 minutes throughout your day. Longer periods to fuel up at regular times, morning, midday and evening, shorter ones (5 minutes) to promote information download and take on daylight.

  • Not boudoir or bedroom: The main function of this room is maximizing mental and physical recovery, so rethink it, starting with its title: My “sleeping recovery room.”

  • Most sleeping products available are actually designed for specific users and sleeping profiles. They however are generally sold as one-product-fits-all, and the more expensive it is, the better it is. But research thoroughly before you select a mattress, pillow, duvet and bed linen, because they contribute to most sleeping concerns and if not correctly profiled to you will always be a key barrier to improvement.