James Haskell: Tips for better sleep

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In this column over the last few weeks I have repeatedly spoken about and stressed the importance of nutrition, being as it is an integral part of any successful training routine.

Hopefully some of what has been said appears to have struck a chord. In fact I have had so much interest shown in the subject and so many questions asked of me over social that I have actually been commissioned to write a book! This is due out at the end of the year but more about that later.

As part of this mission it would be remiss of me not to cover off the other key member of the holy trinity – sleep.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You can train like an animal and eat like a nutritionist; but if you’re not sleeping properly, you’ll never make the gains you should be.

During sleep, our bodies produce testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH), the two most important hormones for muscle building. What’s more, quality sleep also saps cortisol, the stress hormone that triggers fat storage and muscle breakdown.

There’s a reason that the world’s top athletes make sleep a priority. If you want to look like them, you should too.

Here are five easy hacks you can use to engineer the best night’s sleep of your life.


Get into a routine

Our circadian rhythm dictates when we fall asleep and when we wake up. Erratic bedtime patterns and long weekend lay ins disrupt your circadian rhythm, which in turn affect the quality of your sleep throughout the week. As boring as it sounds, quality sleep start with a quality sleep schedule.

Try to go to sleep at roughly the same time each night, and wake up at the same time each morning (allowing a good 8eight hours of sleep time in between). After a couple of weeks of this routine, you should wake up comfortable around the same time each day without the need for an alarm clock – and the huge spike in cortisol that comes with waking up to the shrill tones of your iPhone.

Going to bed and waking up at the same time will ‘teach’ your body when to sleep deeply and when to be wide awake. As a result, you’ll fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply. What’s more, you’ll also be much more alert throughout the day, as your body has fully transitioned to ‘day mode.’


Wind down

As part of your bedtime routine, factor in at least an hour (preferably two) of ‘wind down’ time. Shut down your computer, as the blue light emitted can seriously mess up your circadian rhythm. Lower the lights, watch some light TV, or even better, read a book. Preferably my new rugby book!


Eat carbs at dinner

It may go against the typical ‘bro science’ advice, but your highest carb meal should always be at dinner in order to engineer a great night’s sleep. When we eat carbohydrates, our body sees a natural increase in baseline melatonin, the hormone that helps to promote healthy sleep and relaxation. Ever get that ‘sleepy’ feeling when you eat a high carb meal? It’s time to start using it to your advantage.

For further evidence, we only have to look at a 2007 study conducted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In a nutshell, it shows how subjects who ate a higher carb meal at dinner fell asleep more quickly, and slept more deeply, than the subjects who ate a low carb dinner.


Exercise earlier

Exercise in itself is great for sleep, with a study by the International Sleep Foundation showing that just 150 minutes of exercise per week leads to an average 65% improvement in sleep quality. However, if you train in the evening and struggle to get to sleep that night, it’s likely because your hard training has wired you up too much to return to a state of rest in enough time for bed.

If you’re an evening trainer and can’t get to sleep, there are two options. The first, and most obvious, is to train earlier in the day. If this isn’t possible due to work or other commitments, try taking a cold shower immediately after exercise – this will calm the central nervous system, which gets fired up as you train.


Take magnesium

Magnesium is a natural stress reliever and muscle relaxant, so taking a magnesium supplement before bed is an excellent way to help you hack the perfect night’s sleep. Taking magnesium before bed has been shown to increase sleep duration and sleep quality, as shown in a 2002 clinical trial.

Read more from England International Rugby Player James Haskell at