Charles is very interested in sleep and is a self-confessed sleep nerd. Sleep is really important in terms of attaining Peak physical performance, peak mental performance and recovery from injury or surgery. In his run-up to an extreme physical challenge, the Bicingles cycle event Charles has been measuring his sleep using a Fitbit and experimenting with different interventions to improve sleep efficiency, sleep architecture and most importantly duration of deep sleep.
Things that are known to help are:
1) A consistent bedtime and wake time every day including weekends. This means setting an alarm to remind you to go to bed on time and wake up on time the same day every day. This helps your body get into a rhythm of knowing when it can sleep and when that sleep will be interrupted. Charles tries to give himself a consistent nine hours of sleep opportunity, work permitting. The wake time seems odd to begin with, but if you brain knows what it has to work with, it can improve sleep architecture, a bit like if you know when you have to be somewhere, you know how much you have to rush.
2) Caffine has significant effects on sleep as we all know. One of the things that makes us feel sleepy is a build up of adenosine in the brain and caffeine masks this build up so that we don’t feel sleepy but it is accumulating (that is whey we get a big caffine low when it wears off). Once the adenosine levels get higher we usually feel the need to sleep but caffeine covers this up. By taking caffeine after midday you may well have trouble getting off to sleep and trouble establishing and maintaining deep sleep as you are not feeling the adenosine. For this reason Charles has been using caffeine in the mornings but not after midday to try to improve the time it takes in to get to sleep, and the amount of time he spends in deep sleep.
3) Alcohol makes us feel drowsy, but don't be fooled, it ruins our sleep. Drinking any alcohol even a few hours before bedtime will ruin your sleep architecture. You will wake more, get less REM sleep and less deep sleep, It’s quite clearly seen if you monitor your sleep. For this reason Charles has avoided alcohol pretty much consistently for a few months now and noticed significant improvements in sleep latency and sleep architecture.
4) Blue light: Blue light is daylight and tells the body that it is the morning. Lots of blue light suppresses the production of melatonin, and makes it difficult to get to sleep. Unfortunately in the modern world blue light is very common from mobile phones, computer screens, LED televisions and even ordinary white LED lights. Using the nightshift mode on screens can help, but not solve the problem. Dimmining lights, using flame lights or incandescent light is better than LED lights but darkness is best. Darkness during sleep is also important and not just for your eyes. Even light shining on your skin can disrupt sleep and for that reason Charles tries to sleep in full darkness.
5) Meditation: Anyone who know Charles will know that patience is not his strong point, but meditation is known to help restful sleep. He is currently trying out a free app called Headspace to see if it is for him!
By optimising sleep and particularly deep sleep the rate of overuse injuries can be significantly reduced, and Charles recognises that in most of his patients with tendon problems or even stress fractures sleep is a really common problem and something that can be quite easily addressed.
Charles is looking forward to embarking on some research regarding sleep and sleep disruption associated with surgery as many of the things done in hospital after an operation are terrible for your sleep. He hopes that making some simple changes about how people are cared for after their operations that we may be able to see improved recovery times.
Unfortunately for Charles, his bike challenge involves a 2:30 am start, so all he can do is ensure he gets good sleep in the run-up to the event then sleeps well afterwards to recover!