March 20, 2020

Sleep is a vital component of remaining mentally and physically fit, but right now there are many reasons why you might be feeling like you aren’t getting any – even though you are in bed for longer than normal.

Swim Ireland Associate Head of Performance Services (Applied), Dr Cormac Powell has been working on improving our athletes’ sleep since joining us in 2018, and has this advice for maintaining high quality sleep at any time:

How are you doing?

Like many of you, the majority of my work is being done from home at the moment, which does mean I can go to work in my slippers, and that isn’t the worst outcome in the world.

But it also means my routine has changed, and that can affect many areas of your health and well-being, not least sleep. In normal circumstances, the advice below would be enough to help you adjust, but I wanted to add one more thing first.

The biggest issue out there right now is the amount of information floating around. People should only take their guidelines and advice from trusted sources, namely the HSE and WHO. Anything you take from them, you know is accurate and can be trusted.

Light and temperature

Light and temperature are the two most important things in a bedroom, when considering how to set it up for optimum sleeping conditions.

The temperature should be at an appropriate level, so the room isn’t too warm or too cold for you, and a lot of people find sleeping in darkness easier than having any light in the room.

Limiting blue light exposure in particular is key, so try to switch off from any mobile phones, laptops and tablets 30 minutes before you go to sleep. That’s obviously quite hard at this time because people are getting a lot of information, and a lot of updates on the current situation.

But taking those things into account is quite useful.

Read a book!

From a personal perspective, what I find is best is reading an actual book, either just before I go to bed, or while I am in bed, because I think the tendency is for people to get in to bed and all of a sudden they open Twitter or Instagram and just start scrolling.

They’re not actually paying much attention to what they’re looking at, they are just doing it because it’s force of habit, more than anything else. You need to break that.

Doing something that doesn’t involve a blue light screen helps, even if that means using something like a Kindle to read, where you can reduce the light on the screen. It allows your mind to focus on something else.

Nine times out of 10, you will find that as you are reading your eyes start to get heavier and heavier, and before you know it you are ready for sleep.

By contrast, if you are constantly scrolling through any social media feed, it’s very hard to switch off because your brain is constantly being stimulated by all this exposure to blue light.

Why work on sleep?

The biggest thing we’ve seen from our athletes, is that by improving sleep hygiene – light and temperature – the athletes firstly sleep for that little bit longer, but they also report then that their sleep quality is better, and also that the time it takes them to fall asleep is shorter.

Rather than laying in bed for 45-60 minutes waiting to fall asleep, they find they can fall asleep a lot easier, and quicker, and then sleep better through the night.

We all know people who might report they slept for 9-10 hours, but that they feel like they haven’t really slept at all, and that they still feel really tired or lethargic.

A lot of that is dependent on their sleep cycle; Do they spend enough time in that deep sleep, so that when they do naturally wake from it, they feel that little bit more refreshed and revitalised?

That’s quality sleep; when you wake up like that, and that’s what you should be aiming for, because not all sleep is equal.