You train hard and eat well. Don’t wreck all your game prep with sloppy sleep habits. “Elite athletes now understand that ignoring their sleep can be as detrimental to their performance as taking to the field drunk,” says W. Christopher Winter, M.D., president of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine and a consultant to several professional football, basketball, and baseball teams.
Monitor Your Sleep
Dr. Winter tells all his clients to try a sleep monitor, such as the Basis Peak ($199, mybasis.com). The device can analyze the quality of your shuteye by checking your heart rate and skin temperature and logging how much you toss and turn. “It really helps me stay on track with my sleep,” says Dr. Winter.
Take a Suggestion
“You can’t try to fall asleep; you need to distract your brain. I use a self-hypnotic suggestion technique where I imagine myself diving deeper into dark water. In a recent study from Switzerland, researchers found that having people listen to hypnotic suggestions—words and phrases like ‘relax’ and ‘let go’—increased their time spent in deep sleep by 81 percent.”
Catch Some Z’s
“Like many people, I exercise indoors more in winter. As a result, my sunlight exposure decreases, along with my levels of vitamin D, an important nutrient for good sleep. To boost my D, I eat Atlantic salmon or another fatty fish, usually grilled with mango salsa, three days a week. According to Norwegian research, this simple diet trick can improve sleep quality.”
Pack for the Sack
“Just as you’d never forget your toothbrush and razor, you should always travel with a few tools for sleep hygiene. I pack a sleeping mask, earplugs, and a small bottle of lavender oil. Whatever hotel I’m in, I keep my room quiet, dark, and familiar. That’s the reason for the lavender; I often spritz it on my pillow at home, so I associate the smell with home and good rest.”
Avoid a Nap Trap
“I nap only if I’ve done something unusual, like taken a red-eye flight. I limit it to 30 minutes—otherwise I sleep too deeply and wake up groggy. If I’m tired, I just go to bed a couple of hours earlier; wake-up times should be consistent. On weekends I sleep in for 60 to 90 minutes, but any longer deprives me of light exposure and screws up my sleep architecture.”